Tuesday, February 17, 2015

On ESPN's programming decisions

Their decisions related to Sunday Night Baseball, specifically.  Deadspin linked to this earlier today, which is awesome--awesome enough for me to start reading Baseball Essential more regularly from now on.  While whoever wrote that post seemed to be trying not to over-editorialize, the results speak for themselves: ESPN, whenever possible, is going to show Yankees-Red Sox (or either of those teams even when they're not playing the other) no matter how those teams are playing.  If it's not one of those two, you've got a really good chance at seeing the Cardinals, Braves, Mets or Dodgers.  Just under 50% of SNB games since 2005 have included at least one of those teams.

Now, obviously I get that other than the Mets, who have sucked since 2009, those teams have all been very successful for most or all of the past decade.  No one wants to watch shitty teams play, so being a good team is a good way to make it into the only nationally televised game of the week that is alone in its timeslot.  But for fuck's sake, look at this graph from that post:

Total Appearances by Team <img src="images/" width="600" height="440" alt="A Decade of ESPN Sunday Night Baseball: Is It Really Always Red Sox/Yankees? - Sunday">

Are you shitting me?  The Blue Jays haven't even been that bad for the last decade.  Sure, no playoff appearances, but they've fielded some decent teams, finishing at or over .500 for 4 of the past 7 seasons and employing a couple different superstar caliber players in that time.  Add to that the fact that they're in the AL East, and thus have to have at least a couple Sunday games against the Yankees or Red Sox every season.  And they haven't been on fucking SNB fucking ONCE?  Christ on a crutch, that's embarrassing.  It's a little less egregious in the case of the Mariners, who have been pretty bad for a while, but their ballpark is awesome and they do have King Felix.  (Admittedly, it's hard to schedule a SNB game a couple months out and be sure he would start that night, but come on.)  ZERO appearances?  Apply similar logic to varying degrees as we go up the graph from right to left along the graph; when you factor in quality of team and size of fanbase, I think the relatively low numbers of White Sox, Rangers, Twins and Brewers games are also infuriating.

The question about these decisions on ESPN's part is one I've tackled a few times on this here blog, and I'm happy to tackle it again, because I am lazy and like recycling my own ideas like an unpaid version of Rick Reilly.  It's a chicken and egg problem--does ESPN only show the teams that seem to have gigantic fanbases all over the country, or are there gigantic fanbases for those first ten or so teams from left to right in part because ESPN (and MLB itself) forces those teams on everyone at every possible turn?  I'm sure the answer is "some of both," but what pisses me off is the way the other three main American sports leagues seem to not be nearly as egregious about this as MLB and its main primetime national TV partner are.

If the Grizzlies and  Trailblazers are both having a great season, ESPN is going to nationally televise their next game and people are going to watch.  If the Jaguars and Titans are both somehow 10-2 in early December, their divisional game is going to get flexed into Sunday Night Football and people are going to watch (apply same logic for ESPN's Monday Night Football scheduling the following season).  The NHL is actually closer to MLB in this regard than the NFL or NBA, as they don't do a particularly great job of promoting teams other than those in eastern Canada/the Great Lakes region/the Northeast, but 1) they don't have an ESPN contract so I know ESPN isn't complicit, and 2) I spend enough time on the hockey internetz to know that fans are most definitely talking quite a bit about the surprising Predators and Lightning this year--certainly more than I'd expect MLB fans to talk about the Astros and Padres if each are in first place come July.

Based on all this, I guess I have to conclude that there's something about baseball fans that pulls them towards the Yankees/Red Sox/etc. moreso than fans from other sports are pulled towards those sports' equivalent franchises.  By way of example, I'm sure the percentage of baseball fans residing Phoenix who are Yankees fans is way higher than the percentage of hockey fans who are (New York) Rangers fans.  But it's still goddamn ridiculous to look at SNB, which could definitely be used as a tool by the league (in dictating to ESPN what games they can choose for their broadcasts) to promote some up and coming teams, and see that the first five matchups in 2015 include Yankees-Red Sox twice, Yankees-Mets, Cubs-Cardinals and Cardinals-Reds.  That's one team slot out of ten filled by a team that isn't on national TV every goddamn week already via either an ESPN weeknight game or FOX's Saturday games.

I guess what I'm trying to say, besides go read that linked article for yourself, is fuck ESPN, fuck MLB, and fuck everything else.  I hate it all.


Anonymous said...

Worst thing from that link: 31 Yankees-Red Sox games have been on Sunday Night Baseball during that tjme. No other AL team has been showed more than 25 times at all.

Snarf said...

O's fan here...

Looking over the IMDB records that were used to put this together (may have missed one or two), the O's opponents in the games they appeared in were:

2014 - Red Sox
2013 - Yankees x2
2008 - Yankees
2004 - Red Sox, Angels

So they have had some appearances, but generally only as the opponent of their AL East foes (not talking about TB and Toronto).

CHart said...

Uggggggh. Talk about Simmons.