MLB All-Star game strikes out in ratings

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - When the American and National League face off in Tuesday’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game in New York, there will be fewer people watching than there were the last time Yankee Stadium was the host in 1977.

The New York Yankees unveiled the 2008 All-Star Game logo at Yankee Stadium before their MLB American League baseball game with the Chicago White Sox in New York, July 31, 2007. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine

Last year’s game drew 12.5 million viewers, the smallest audience for the “Midsummer Classic” since at least 1970. With the exception of the 2006 game in Pittsburgh, which bucked the trend, the ratings have fallen since 2001.

That’s the way it is for most of TV these days. But for the All-Star Game, the signature TV event of the summer, the ratings losses are particularly stark. Blame the TV landscape, interleague play, the fact there’s plenty more baseball on TV and cable these days or even the fact that many of the recent games have been blowouts by the AL. There’s also a lot more competition, albeit reality programming mostly, from broadcast and cable rivals. Whatever the reason, it adds up to diminished ratings.

“The All-Star Game used to be one of the highlights of television in the summer,” baseball fan and Horizon Media researcher Brad Adgate said. “I don’t think you can necessarily make that claim anymore. It’s still relevant and it’s a lot of fun.” But there’s no doubt, Adgate said, that it has lost much of the cachet it has enjoyed since the first one was dreamed up by a Chicago sportswriter in 1933.

But Major League Baseball has high hopes for this year’s game, which will be played in the last year of one of baseball’s most storied homes, Yankee Stadium. Several days of celebration kicked off this past weekend, with a free concert in Central Park by Bon Jovi and continuing Monday with ESPN’s telecast of the Home Run Derby and Tuesday’s parade in Manhattan and the game itself. It’s a big investment for MLB and Fox.

Fox Sports president Ed Goren said that the historic nature of this year’s game -- the last year in a fabled ballpark and the participation of almost every living Hall of Famer -- makes it something special.

“The viewership for this All-Star Game is going to be sensational,” Goren said.

What’s also sensational is the ad sales, which recorded a double-digit increase this year. The average 30-second spot goes for between $425,000 and $450,000 a throw. Some spots are going for $550,000 each and only one spot was left heading into the weekend. There is strong support from MLB’s corporate sponsors, among other advertisers -- something that other sports can’t always claim.

It’s true that baseball’s All-Star Game still holds a special place in the summer. It’s often still the most-watched program of the summer. It always finishes well above the ratings for similar all-star games in hockey, basketball and even football. And the declines the All-Star Game has seen in ratings isn’t as stark when looking at what’s happened in broadcast TV’s big picture. Fox Sports vp research and programming Mike Mulvihill said that the ratings have been about 25% higher in any given season than the network season average going as far back as 1970 when it was a three-network universe.

“Compared to the three-network primetime average, the All-Star Game holds up as well today in relative terms as it did 20, 30, 40 years ago,” Mulvihill said. “Relative to the environment, it’s just as strong today as it has ever been.”

Horizon Media’s Adgate thinks that the Home Run Derby, which airs Monday night on ESPN, also is siphoning off viewers that usually would have been watching the game. ESPN began televising the derby in 1992, going live with it starting in 1997.

Len DeLuca, ESPN’s senior vp programming and acquisitions, thinks the derby’s much more than an excuse to get host Chris Berman on the field. ESPN dropped its part of the MLB postseason package but made sure it kept the derby.

“It’s regularly part of our summer mantra, one of the highest, if not the highest-rated shows in cable in July,” DeLuca said.

MLB and Fox have worked together to try to stem the ratings loss, to mixed results. Those efforts intensified after 2002, when the game ended in a tie after one of the teams ran out of players. MLB came up with a new plan to reinvigorate the game, and have it mean something. That led to the winning league gaining home-field advantage at the World Series, as well as adding other flourishes like an all-star parade and red carpet.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter