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The Yankees Losing Won't Be Bad for Postseason Baseball Ratings, But a Non-Competitive World Series Would

Last night, our fearless editor in chief tweeted out after the Yankees were eliminated that “I’m sure many will disagree, but the Yankees getting eliminated is bad for baseball.” I know that Jason is referring to the disparity in television ratings in the recent World Series versus others, which was sizeable, and how baseball was probably secretly hoping for the Yankees in the Series as a result.

We can have a discussion of whether ratings is even the best way to establish what is good for baseball. For the sake of this post, and for taking a position on opposition territory, I’ll use World Series ratings to dispute the Yankees’ impact is truly as large as the ratings difference between 2009 and other years around it, and that a scenario where the Yankees lose in the playoffs more often than they advance to the World Series is probably good for baseball ratings overall.

The “Yankees are super important to baseball” proponents will point to the 2009 World Series ratings numbers. Here are the average game ratings for the World Series since 2000:

2000	12.4*
2001	15.7*
2002	11.9
2003	12.8*
2004	15.8
2005	11.1
2006	10.1
2007	10.6
2008	8.4
2009	17.2*
2010	8.4

*World Series involving the Yankees

That 17.2 rating in 2009, in the World Series between the Yankees and Phillies, was a large number compared to the others around it. So it appears I am off my rocker when I suggest that the Yankees losing in the playoffs is not bad for baseball, based on ratings.

The case for New York’s impact being sizeable, though, is based only on that series. In 1981, a World Series between teams from the two largest markets, the Yankees and Dodgers, drew a 30.0 rating. The year before, a series involving the Royals drew a 32.8, while a year later, a series between two more Midwest teams, Milwaukee and St. Louis, drew a 27.9.

I know, I know, you’re saying that was 30 years ago. And a lot has changed. Sure, it has. Part of the problem is that unlike the NFL, where it doesn’t matter if the stars are from Green Bay or Pittsburgh, the league has done a poor job of marketing stars outside of New York over the last decade, so that the casual fan doesn’t identify with other teams and knows little about them once the Yankees are eliminated. Thirty years ago, the World Series was an event that everyone watched, and it certainly didn’t matter that the Yankees were in it. My perception, and this is just my perception, is that baseball broadcasts have done a better job of not just focusing on Red Sox/Yankees this year, though they still get plenty of coverage.

So, let’s go to 1996, when the Yankees broke through with the first World Series title under Joe Torre. The rating that year was a 17.4. The year before, Cleveland and Atlanta had a 19.5, and the year after, Cleveland and Florida drew 16.7. The three years after that, when the Yankees won the World Series, all had lower ratings than Cleveland/Florida. The ratings in the 2001 and 2003 Series were 15.7 and 12.8; without New York, in 2002 and 2004, they were 11.9 and 15.8.

You would be hard pressed to compare New York to the World Series around them at any point over the last 30-40 years, and see that them being eliminated before the World Series was “bad for baseball” on a national scale, with the exception of 2009.

So let’s talk about 2009, and why 2011 isn’t 2009. The Yankees drew their highest rating in 2009 since the 1996 World Series. What do those have in common? Both were the first World Series title in a while, and the Yankees had gone multiple years without a World Series appearance. By 2009, the Yankees had not won a World Series since 2000, and had not made an appearance since 2003, despite annually being in the postseason tournament. They had several notable failures. People around the rest of the country like to root against New York, but they don’t like to do so when it doesn’t matter and the Yankees dominate. By 2009, the Yankees were not the dominant World Series force of a decade earlier. Oh, and they were playing the defending champion Phillies, so let’s not forget the other team in the equation further increased the interest and storylines. Then, the Phillies won game 1, and the series went 6 games, the only time that has happened since 2003. (More on how series length impacts overall ratings in a bit).

No one arguing that the Yankees are such a ratings bonanza will point to 2000. After winning two straight World Series by sweeps, and winning 3 of 4, the Yankees and Mets played in the Subway Series. How can that not be the best thing for baseball ever? Well, it was the second lowest rated Series between 1995 and 2004. Fatigue had set in, and the Yankees winning was arguably, gasp, bad for baseball. Game 1 of the 2001 Series, with the Yankees now three-time champions, drew a 10.4. Even though ratings have declined in general over the last decade, that is just behind game 1′s in the Colorado-Boston series, and just ahead of ratings busts like the Rays-Phillies and Astros-White Sox and Rangers-Giants in the opener. The difference? The Diamondbacks stunned the invincible Yankees, and ratings improved throughout the Series until Game 7 produced a 23.5, the highest rated game of the decade. The others, they were stinkers that were decided in 5 or less.

Which brings me to the length of series, and how the fact that all the other World Series recently have been lopsided skews the ratings perception to where people think 2009 means more than it did. Game 1 is almost always the lowest rated game of a World Series, and the last two times the Game 1 rating was higher than the Series average was in 2008 (when ratings plummeted after Game 1) and in 1984 (when the Tigers were heavy favorites and dominated the Padres).

Here are the average ratings increases of the deciding game, versus the average for the rest of the series, depending on how long the series went, for all World Series since 1980:

  • Four Games: Game 4 averaged +1.7 higher rating than rest of series
  • Five Games: Game 5 averaged +0.5 higher rating than rest of series
  • Six Games: Game 6 averaged +3.6 higher rating than rest of series
  • Seven Games: Game 7 averaged +9.7 higher rating than rest of series

We love Game 7′s, and this is just as true recently as it was 30 years ago. Winner take all games attract viewers. Instead, in recent years, other than the Yankees-Phillies, we’ve gotten series that had no drama. Three sweeps and three 4-1 Series since 2003. How does that rank historically? The longest stretch without a game 6 in a World Series, prior to 2004-2008, was four years, from 1913-1916. The longest stretch without a 7th game, which we haven’t had since 2002? 1913-1918, though that ended with the Black Sox in a Best of 9 series that went 8 (From 1913-1923, there were no winner take all games, then immediately followed by three straight).

It would be a gambler’s fallacy to assume it must happen this year, because it hasn’t happened for a while. But the best thing for baseball from a ratings perspective in the World Series is not those damn Yanks, particularly since they just won a World Series and don’t have that buzz of having not won for 8 straight years. It’s getting a competitive World Series with a decisive game 7. If that happened, whether it was the Brewers versus Tigers or Rangers versus Phillies, I think the Game 7 rating would be above 20.0, probably much higher since we haven’t had one in a while, and the overall series rating, based on looking at recent ratings in non-Yankees series and historical data on how ratings increase as series progress if it is competitive, would be in the 14-15 range, even if it started out with similar ratings to recent non-Yankees series.

What’s good for baseball, even when looking at the ratings, is more competitive World Series, with or without the Yankees. A Game 7 is a bigger draw than pinstripes. Further, there is some equilibrium where the Yankees actually need to miss the World Series more often than not to then maximize ratings when they make it. This loss isn’t bad for baseball. When the Yankees get back in 2015 after getting rid of some of these contracts, the ratings will be huge, and it will be in part because they lost this year.

[photo via Getty]

 

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