Baseball fans can bet their last dollar that Fox Sports would have liked to have seen rookie sensation Yasiel Puig make an appearance in tonight’s MLB All-Star Game.
Puig, a Cuban defector who is hitting .391 with eight home runs and 19 RBI for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has a compelling story that would resonate with anyone possessing a speck of empathy. Defector from Communist country makes good in new homeland. It’s the stuff of which movies are made.
“It’s an exciting story,” said Fox Sports co-president Eric Shanks during a recent conference call. “We’re in a business of eyeballs and delivering stories.”
Yes, but baseball fans won’t get to see Puig tonight because he didn’t make the roster, primarily because the powers-that-be concluded that he didn’t have enough time and at-bats with just 151 in for the season, a fact that was picked apart by the game’s play-by-play announcer Joe Buck.
“He’s an electrifying, don’t-get-something-to-drink-don’t-leave-your-seat kind of player. Baseball needs more and more of those and when you get them you have to hang onto them for dear life. Puig would add a lot to this game as Stephen Strasburg could have a couple of years ago.
“There is room for someone that fans want to see. That’s the only reason I go down that path. Whether it’s 90 at-bats or 140 at-bats, where do you draw the line? It seems to be splitting hairs. Just give me the guy that people want to watch play.”
Considering the fact that attendance at MLB games is off by 1.7 million fans from this point last year and that TV ratings remain a mixed bag — flat or down for national games depending upon the network and up for some regional sports nets including SportsTime Ohio, that’s something the league perhaps should have considered.
But the reality is it might not have done much good as MLB’s problems appear to be a lot deeper. Long, drawn-out TV games don’t seem to hold TV audiences’ interest. The chasm between the haves and the have-nots remains great despite the contention of smaller-market teams such as the Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Those realities are reflected in TV ratings for the midsummer classic which has suffered five consecutive years of ratings slippage. The game lost nearly 1 million viewers from 2011 to 2012, an 8 percent decline.
“The midsummer classic is still a jewel event. At Fox Sports, we look at it as a part of our total baseball business. We still have a healthy local baseball business and very strong demand for our national business and strong demand for the All-Star Game,” Shanks said.
“When you put it in context among all of the entertainment choices out there, this is the top end of the summer. Not just the All-Star Game, but baseball itself. The national game of the week on Saturday nights is winning the night against all networks. I feel that it’s very healthy.”
That might be optimistic, because from this corner there might be trouble on the horizon for Major League Baseball.
Upgrading the experience
Gamers who are into sports titles and who are college football fans have a bit of a reason to rejoice — NCAA Football 14 joins the 21st century this year.
The game, which had looked stagnant in prior releases, shares more with the Madden title now than it has in previous years when looking at presentation and graphics, and folks have noticed. Deafening buzz is enveloping the title in gaming circles.
“The game had started to show its age the past couple of years,” said NCAA producer Ben Haumiller. “The big effort this year was to draw that line in the sand and say this is a different game this year.”
Haumiller and his creative team have successfully done that, crafting a game that plays more realistically and flows better, taking advantage of technology used to power the Madden series of football games.
It will be interesting to see just how the upcoming release of Sony and Microsoft’s new gaming consoles eventually change things.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the On Sports Media blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/sports-media. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.