When did national baseball broadcasts cease focusing on the game?
After a couple of years of getting her feet wet, my daughter slowly but surely has gotten into baseball this year. She asks about certain players. She asks the sorts of questions about the game which suggest she is thinking about it. She watches games with me. Local games, mostly, which I get via the Extra Innings package. And, importantly for our purposes here, she usually plops down to watch with me after the game has been on for a while. At, say, 8pm, when her day is winding down but she’s not ready to take a shower and go to bed. It’s usually the second or third inning by then and she just picks up from there.
This week I was in Minnesota and my daughter was on a camping trip, so we couldn’t watch the All-Star Game together. She suggested that I record it and we watch it together once we were both home. So I did and, without giving her any spoilers, we sat down to watch it earlier this afternoon.
While I was going to just fast-forward through all of the pregame festivities, I decided not to for a couple of reasons. First, I remember watching All-Star Games when I was young and my favorite part were the player introductions. I wanted my daughter to see that. I also had an ulterior motive: I wanted to see what kind of patience she had for the filler Fox and Major League Baseball typically give us before pitches are actually thrown. I mean, sure, it’s possible to determine when the first pitch will actually be thrown if you want to, but the casual fan is just going to look at the TV listing. And, because Fox and MLB make no distinction between when the broadcast starts and when the game actually starts anymore, casual fans are either subjected to it all or don’t bother with it at all. I wanted to see how it played in my house among those of us who aren’t paid to endure it.
The verdict: not too well. We watched Frank Thomas and Gabe Kapler offer a lot of analysis that neither served a ten-year-old girl because it’s not actual baseball and didn’t serve a reasonably informed 41-year-old baseball writer because, well, because it just didn’t. The player introductions were fun -- my daughter did like those -- but the commercials on either side of them made things drag. By the time Idina Menzel sang “Forever Young” the broadcast had gone on for over a half hour. That’s when my daughter checked out. After she left I fast-forwarded to the first pitch to see when it finally came and it was at the 49 minute mark. My daughter will watch the game itself later, I suppose, but she’ll fast forward through all of the commercials, which is exactly the opposite of what Fox and Major League Baseball want.
Why does it have to be this way? Why do the big national games like the All-Star Game, the playoffs and the World Series have to be buried under so many things that are not baseball? Sideline interviews which provide nothing but fluff and conspicuous displays of the network’s access. Sponsor service, ceremonies and presentations which could, quite easily and seamlessly, be worked into the proceedings later as opposed to delaying them. Why must there be such a focus on everything but the actual sporting event?
I assume the answer is “money” but it’s a shortsighted answer. As I noted a couple of posts back, baseball has a demographics problem. The people who are the future of baseball fandom aren’t the target audience of most of that fluff and most of those commercials, but they’re being subjected to it anyway and it’s turning them off and inspiring them to do other things. This isn’t a “think of the children” point as much as it is a “think about the future” point. Get kids and casual adult fans hooked on and sucked into the game first. Then go ahead and do what you feel you have to do to justify your production budgets. Let people watch baseball when they turn on a telecast the way most of the local broadcasts do. Focus on the actual game at hand rather than treating the baseball game as merely one aspect of some overall production.
Somewhere along the line Major League Baseball and Fox has lost their way in this regard, turning the All-Star Game, the playoffs and the World Series into multi-faceted events and forgetting that the baseball game is the part that matters.
Forty-nine minutes before a pitch is thrown? That’s just obnoxious.