Aug. 17, 2015

Baseball is Now a Regional Sport

By Marc Platt

When I was 6-years-old, I bought my first pack of Topps baseball cards. This was the summer of 1966 and the first card I saw was a Sandy Koufax card. He was my first baseball hero. A Jewish iconic Los Angeles Dodger first ballot future Hall of Famer.

He was a pitching legend during his baseball career, which would end after that 1966 season after the Dodgers were ceremonously swept out of the World Series by the Baltimore Orioles. Koufax was elected 1st ballot in 1972 to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Here is something to think about. There was no Internet or 24-hour cable stations. There were three networks, local radio and TV stations, daily newspapers and magazines. Baseball was called "The American Pastime" and at that time dwarfed the NFL, NHL and NBA in popularity.

Baseball heroes like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were nationally well-known in every household in America.

NBC aired the "Saturday Game of the Week," a weekly broadcast that sports fans watched, especially young boys who wanted to know who these players were.

My point is...The world and America was smaller. There were fewer Major League franchises and the stars stood out and were covered by the media to a starving public.

Fast forward to 2015 and most franchises air all of the games to their local markets, Fox rarely airs "Saturday Game of the Week" anymore, ESPN and MLB Network do have a lot of national programming to a more limited audience.

This is troubling if you love baseball.

MLB is still thriving as attendance has risen, despite the suffocating costs to attend an MLB game in the present economic conditions.

The NFL and NBA are still national sports who market their stars throughout the country. Baseball has the All Star Game and the season-ending playoffs mostly designated to cable networks. There are so many games that it is apparent that only locally regionalized fanbases really care how most teams are doing.

The only thing baseball can possible do is make some sort of package deals that would expose the entire country to their product. There really needs to be national coverage of small market teams so they can grow their fan bases amongst younger viewers.

Young boys and girls need to fall in love with baseball in America.

I live in Los Angeles where the Los Angeles Dodgers have had issues because they signed an $8 Billion TV deal with Time Wrner/Comcast and only 35% of the Los Angeles market can even watch the games. Many games that are carried on partner networks like TNT, ESPN and MLB Network are blacked out in the Los Angeles market because of the contract The Dodgers signed with Time Warner. DirecTV viewers are shut out from the Dodgers TV network and this has angered the old guard fans who previously followed every game on television.

This is just an example how baseball has lost its way nationally. When charter franchises like The Los Angeles Dodgers can't even find a way to get the games to a local television audience, how can we expect the sport to survive the corporate structure and attitude that has been evident for the past several years?

There was a time in the recent past when cable providers would carry the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox games all over the country throughout the long 162-game season. That was great brand-building and now those days are long gone.

Yes my friends, baseball is now a regional sport.