"It's crazy to say that the wildcard has been anything other than a huge success," one reader wrote in response to yesterday's summary of
Bud Selig's abject failure as commissioner of Major League Baseball
. The wild card "makes for a more exciting playoffs," another wrote.
Well, this year, somewhere between 15 and 20 million people didn't see that excitement. That's the difference between how many people watched the Giants beat the Rangers and how many people used to watch the World Series before Bud Selig took over as commissioner.
This year's World Series matched the lowest ratings ever for the championship, drawing an 8.4 rating and a 14 share. It matched the numbers for 2008, when an average of 13.6 million viewers watched the Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays.
Before Selig began implementing his plans to make the postseason more popular, the World Series regularly drew more than 30 million viewers . Under Selig, the peak numbers slipped into the 20 million range—if the Yankees or Red Sox were playing—and have kept dropping mercilessly. Even the return of the Yankees last year couldn't break what is now a six-year streak of attracting an audience under 20 million.
For every American who watched the World Series, 20 did not. The American public is not interested in what Bud Selig has done to baseball in the name of jazzing it up. It's true that the ratings were in decline before Selig took over, and it's not easy to keep market share in an ever more fragmented mediascape. But there's no sign that Selig's innovations have done anything to slow the slide , let alone reverse it.
Stodgy old purists say that the expanded playoffs drain excitement and interest from the regular season. Back when pennant races counted, the World Series was a matchup between teams that had been building their reputations for six months.
Now, with six divisions and two wildcards and month-long, eight-team playoff tournament, here's how much enthusiasm MLB generated: on Sunday night, for the first time, a World Series game was
beaten head to head
in the ratings by a regular-season NFL game. Last night, the Series finale did do better than Monday Night Football—which was on ESPN, rather than a major network—but it drew
fewer viewers than Dancing With the Stars
. Maybe the commissioner's new extra round of the postseason should be a dance-off.