Yes, the die-hard Dodger fan will readily fire up his debit card to cover the impending $200 tab. But the team's broadcasts average just 100,000 viewers. That means the remaining 5.6 million LA households with cable must be convinced to pay the same to catch such searing drama as Vanderpump Rules and Confessions: Animal Hoarding.

One needn't be an economist to know this won't turn out well.

Baseball is Introduced to Reality
Baseball may be sick, but the prognosis isn't terminal. Average per-game attendance was 31,000 last year, not far below pre-recession days. Better still, polling shows that Latinos, the country's fastest-growing demographic, are also the game's biggest fans.

Posnanski notes that teams have agreed to share Internet revenues, meaning there may come a day when the Pirates and the Royals won't have reserved seats at the kids' table come playoff time.

See a larger version of this week's cover.
Cover illustration by Tim Teebken

Yet it's more likely that consumers and the cable industry will force baseball to confront its decaying foundation. And if they're successful, the cost to true fans will rocket.

Companies such as Time Warner Cable have begun to use their own market power to fight back, offering cheaper, mostly sports-free deals for those tired of paying for games they don't watch. Time Warner's TV Essentials package comes in at less than $50, says spokeswoman Maureen Huff, and is "designed for people who are just kind of feeling the economy." Most telling: It doesn't include ESPN or other sports channels.

Cablevision is the biggest threat looming off baseball's stern. Earlier this month, the New York provider filed a federal anti-trust suit against Viacom, claiming that in order to carry Comedy Central and VH1, it was forced to buy channels like Logo and Palladia as well. According to the suit, Cablevision could always reject these demands. But Viacom wanted a $1 billion penalty in exchange for any exercise in free will.

If the court rules against Viacom, cable and satellite may finally be able to offer packages to suit any price or taste. Baseball's welfare payments from non-fans will corrode. And with an audience in decline, remaining subscribers will be forced to spend that much more to compensate. Suddenly, that $200 bill could look like a going-out-of-business sale.

A dying game will be introduced to Economics 101. It won't be a pleasant encounter.

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It's weird to reference new media and not take it into account.  MLB.TV delivered 127.2 million streams in the first two weeks of 2009.  It's hard to casually find statistics about the subscriptions last year, but that 127.2 million number was a 136 percent increase from the previous year.  Attendance has also risen steadily at MLB stadiums.  Check out the wiki for record-setting home attendance; most of the numbers are in the 2000s (decade, I mean).

You also wrote: "While the NBA and NFL constantly remake rules for speed and action, baseball's last significant change was the designated hitter. In 1973."

That's just plain wrong.  The MLB added a one-game wildcard last year in both divisions and updated several rules before the start of this season--notably a rule on balks, which was certainly imposed to speed up the game.  There's also talk of eliminating the intentional walk.  

That wildcard game drew only 4.6 million viewers--to TBS, which considered it a smash success.  You also make a lot of choice comparisons between a series of games to ratings for a single game championship like the Superbowl, which is especially hard to swallow given how the Giants crushed the Tigers last year.  Lots of people didn't continue watching the blowout, but that's true of any sports event.

You're also wrong about salaries determining championships or the Cubs would have won one by now.  Plus, the Yankees suck this year, and they're pouring money into their team.  The Dodgers are good, but they were beaten by a smaller payroll.  The A's made it to the postseason on a pretty light budget.  And about that "faster route of free agency"--ask the Marlins how that works out.

I just don't think that this editorial was well researched or reported.  

egolterman topcommenter

Taxpayers here are picking up 'more' tabs than others paying off Ballpark bonds from hotel- motel tax for 30 years-commitments made by government officials based on inclusion of Ballpark Village. o taxpayers get a cut of all the new parties, banquets and special events revenue the Cardinals are loading into the Ballpark? Will they get a cut out of the beer sales from Phase One-Village?  May be baseball is heading toward a cliff but Cardinals owners cleared $20 million last year. That does not include the increase in value of their stock. And, they keep the ticket-tax revenue? 6 million a year.  Are you kidding me? Mayor Slay-take the sheriff over there, get that money and hire another 100 police officers. Ticket tax revenue is not to be kept by entertainment venues, producers or franchise owners. Make the rounds of all  and get it.


The MLB players union is the strongest and most unified union in sports. They would not sit still for salary reductions. No facts can change their belief in "habeas wampum" which means, "you have money, now give it to me!" Like the auto workers union that insisted, "it's not our fault the company gave us a contract they can't afford", they would rather destroy their business than compromise. I don't see how the ticket prices can go any higher, so MLB will need to go into bankruptcy,  or get the government to bail them out. If the players' union has contributed enough money to politicians, the governent will bail out MLB. The government auto company bailout helped the union by preventing GM and Chrysler from going into bankruptcy court to reorganize their businesses and renegotiate unsustainable labor contracts.


It's true that baseball doesn't draw as big a TV audience than football, but more people play various forms of baseball, softball, wiffle ball, t ball, kick ball, than any other sport. In that sense, baseball is still America's pastime. 


The author seems to think that merely the price of tickets and beer would skyrocket if TV money decreasaed dramatically. I don't see some sort of epic collapse of baseball, because player salaries would be slashed.  There would definitely be a big struggle, but baseball is not on the verge of falling off a cliff.

egolterman topcommenter

@kevinalbright8 Yes and there is no way the City should have given up the ticket tax revenue to them, or the Fox, or now to the Blues. That's pure theft. And with Village a decade late and nothing like what gov officials were 'sold', the County should stop payment on  the Ballpark bonds, and refer the bondholders to the boys in Cincinatti for the payments.

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