Archive for Thursday, October 18, 2007

Commentary: Playoffs drag on, and so do games

October 18, 2007


The Colorado Rockies deserved better than having their magical run rewarded with an eight-day layoff.

The Cleveland Indians deserved better, too. They had momentum on their side and a chance Wednesday to knock off the Boston Red Sox at home before their adoring fans.

Problem is they didn't play. Instead, players got a night off to sample the cultural charms and nightlife of Cleveland.

Television and greed dictated that the Indians wait another day to try to finish off the Red Sox. The same elements can be blamed for the Rockies having to chill all that time before playing Game 1 of the World Series.

And, yes, that's the reason the Series will end in November if it goes seven games. The target date is Nov. 1, though there's always the possibility heavy snowfalls could move it back to, say, Thanksgiving.

That's improbable, but nothing is impossible now that baseball has given up any pretense of doing what's best for the game in an increasingly desperate effort to hang on to the few viewers who still care.

And few they are, with ratings for the National League championship series plummeting to half its previous low. When the Rockies finished off their sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks, less people were watching than were tuned into the final of the Little League World Series.

That's right, 12-year-olds with pimples on their faces proved more interesting to America than the no-name millionaires toiling for the Diamondbacks and Rockies.

The American League series is faring better, but the executives at Fox Sports must be cringing at the prospect of an Indians-Rockies World Series that could become the least-watched Fall Classic since color television was invented.

By the time it begins next Wednesday, Fox will be lucky if fans still remember who is playing. It's no surprise that "Dancing With The Stars" is generating more buzz than this postseason.

Apologists will offer a lot of reasons why people aren't tuning in. The most often heard is that there are so many channels available that any sport other than the NFL is reduced to niche status.

There's some evidence of that, but it doesn't totally explain how 25 years ago half the television sets in America were tuned into the World Series, compared to just 17 percent last year.

Yes, there were fewer alternatives in 1982, but it's no coincidence that the decline in television ratings began about the same time baseball stopped playing World Series games during the day.

Along the way, the game lost a generation who couldn't stay up at night. In the chase for the almighty dollar, baseball gave up its youngest fans.

No need to look any further than the second game of the NLCS for proof. The game didn't begin until after 9 p.m. CDT, and by the time it mercifully ended nearly five hours later, people not only had fallen asleep at the game but early risers had awakened to it.

Don't count on baseball to change its policy of night games, because Fox won't allow it and television pays the bills. But it can do something about the length of the games.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the average postseason game this year is running 3 hours and 21 minutes, a full 22 minutes longer than postseason games did in 1987. Five games have lasted more than four hours, including the 5-hour, 14-minute epic Saturday night between the Indians and the Red Sox.

Compare that to the 1967 World Series, when one game lasted 2:05 and the longest went 2:48.

Blame more commercials for some of it. An extra commercial is added between innings in the playoffs, meaning at least three minutes between the last out of the previous inning and the first pitch of the next, or nearly an hour of every game.

Umpires still won't call a strike above the belt buckle, and pitchers feel free to walk around the mound until they have either studied the mowing pattern of the infield grass or loaded enough stuff on their fingers.

It's only logical that the later a game goes, the fewer the people watching.

It's a pretty simple equation: Late and long is killing the postseason. You would think someday baseball folks would figure it out.


laboube 10 years, 7 months ago

Absolutely agree. You can bet if the Mets had played Colorado in the NLCS that those games would not have been sentenced to late night on a cable channel.

Atrocity is the word for the playoff/World Series TV schedule. Insulting describes sentencing fans of smaller market teams to less than prime time slots. Here's to a Cleveland/Colorado World Series -- what angst we'll see in network TV suites then!

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