Are you going to watch the MLB All-Star Game tonight?
That might be a really dumb question to ask readers of a baseball blog. We're all fans of the sport, perhaps some more devoted or fanatical than others, but extremely interested spectators nonetheless. So chances are, you'll be tuning in for the 84th Midsummer Classic this evening on FOX.
Yet the numbers say that fewer of you — of us — are watching the All-Star Game each year.
In a column for Indiana University's National Sports Journalism Center, Ed Sherman details the hard truth. Last year's All-Star Game from Kansas City drew the lowest TV ratings in the history of the event. Viewership has been in steady decline since the 2008 Midsummer Classic at Yankee Stadium, losing nearly four million viewers, two ratings points and three percent of the share (number of TV sets tuned in for a particular program).
That trend has to be troubling for MLB, considering it essentially has the sports world to itself right now. There's nothing to compete with what has always been a showcase event for baseball. That is, except for attention spans and mainstream interest.
Sherman lists a few reasons for why he thinks ratings for the MLB All-Star Game are down, including a lack of star power (as Mets pitcher Matt Harvey demonstrated) and declining overall viewership for baseball on TV. While I agree with his points, I'd also like to elaborate on what he mentioned, while also listing a few other possible reasons for fewer people watching one of MLB's signature events.
There's too much baseball on TV: I'm not suggesting that being able to watch every game played by your local MLB team is bad. Nor am I taking the stand that having more national telecasts on ESPN, FOX and TBS is hurting the sport. Of course, the ability to see any game and every team (local blackouts notwithstanding) thanks to packages like MLB.TV and MLB Extra Innings seems like one of modern technology's greatest innovations.
These are wonderful developments for the sport of baseball. But they may not be so beneficial to the All-Star Game.
When you can watch any team and every player on a nightly basis, it's no longer special to see those names in one particular event. You don't have to wait until mid-July when baseball's star players assemble to see Chris Davis play. You've had plenty of opportunities to see him and the Orioles this season already.
Maybe that's not true for someone who doesn't have cable. Network TV provides the only option for those fans to watch MLB's best and brightest on one field. But how many sports fans does that apply to anymore? We just don't live in that world nowadays, not when playoff games are only available on cable. That also applies to other prominent features on the sports calendar like the NBA All-Star Game and NCAA basketball tournament.
Of course, interleague play has also dulled the novelty of seeing players from the other league in action. Fans in Detroit, for example, won't get only one chance to watch Bryce Harper play during the season. Such accessibility to everything MLB offers these days makes the All-Star Game less distinct.
Players aren't the only ones who need a break: As mentioned above, you can watch every game your favorite MLB team plays nowadays. If you'd like, you could check in on each game being played on a particular day, running your own version of MLB Tonight in your house.
Not every fan does this, of course. Only the truly devoted — or perhaps those without a wide range of interests — watch all 162 games on a club's schedule in a given season. And that devotion could depend greatly upon whether or not that team is a playoff contender. If you think your team has a shot at the World Series, you might follow a bit more closely.
But 162 games is a lot of baseball to watch. It basically becomes an essential part of your daily routine. Even if you enjoy that routine, many of us often need an occasional break from it. Otherwise, it can feel like a grind.
So the All-Star break becomes a four-day respite from your regular baseball regiment. Maybe this is when you go out to see one of the summer blockbuster movies over at the local cineplex. (Is Sharknado still on your DVR? Give that a whirl!) Perhaps you reacquaint yourself with your family. Maybe you just want to do something else for a change.
You'll get back to baseball when the real games start being played again. But here's an opportunity to refresh, to cleanse your entertainment palette. By the time MLB's midsummer hiatus is over, you're probably eager to watch some baseball and get back into your routine.
You can see the highlights in the morning: The MLB All-Star Game has provided many memorable moments. Reggie Jackson hitting a light tower at Tiger Stadium with a home run in the 1971 Midsummer Classic is certainly one. Randy Johnson sailing a pitch far over John Kruk's head in the 1993 All-Star Game is another.
Though the 2002 game is remembered most for ending in a tie, it also included Torii Hunter robbing Barry Bonds of a home run with a spectacular catch in center field.
Personally, I loved Bo Jackson's leadoff home run in the 1989 game. I still remember watching the game with my dad and both of us being awed by that blast.
But these days, it wouldn't matter if I missed a play like that. I wouldn't lament turning off the game or falling asleep, and hearing or reading a description of the play, rather than seeing the actual moment. I'd be able to see it on SportsCenter, YouTube or MLB.com the next morning. (MLB.com might even have the play posted online within minutes of it happening.)
As a result, the All-Star Game is no longer a must-see event. You can see the highlights later. Presumably, you could say the same about almost any sporting event now. But at least a real game includes the drama of progressing toward its result. There's tension and competition. It's not necessarily just waiting for the highlight. Sometimes, the little play that doesn't make for good TV matters most.
We know it's not a real game: Dear Bud Selig, you're not fooling us. Whenever an athletic event ends in a tie, it's extremely unsatisfying. And the MLB All-Star Game may never have truly recovered from what happened in 2002, when Selig called the game because the AL and NL ran out of players to use. (MLB apparently hopes you don't remember that embarrassment, however.)
Sure, hockey games, soccer matches and the occasional NFL clash end with the score tied. But in those sports, the tie still factors in to the standings. The schedule always moves on to the next game. If a winner has to be declared — such as in a playoff circumstance — those games go until one side claims victory.
But setting aside the possibility of a sporting event with no winner, the All-Star Game is not played — nor is it managed — like an actual baseball game. The best pitchers are only used for an inning or two. The best hitters are replaced because it's someone else's turn to play. Most every player gets an opportunity to participate, regardless of whether or not he gives his team a better chance of winning.
Yet there's also no guarantee that your favorite player will get to play. And what if you stayed up late into the night for those final innings, hoping to see your guy, only to see him held back in case he's needed for extra innings that are never played? How about that for a letdown?
Above all, however, fans know when a game is really an exhibition and doesn't count for anything. Even with MLB trying to attach trumped-up stakes to the result with home-field advantage in the World Series as the prize, people watching (or not watching) realize that there's not a whole lot of meaning associated with the outcome.
That's reason enough not to tune in for the casual baseball fan, never mind the diehards.