The MLB All-Star Game could be interesting again - but it needs some work, or people will continue to not watch in droves.
Allow me to assume for a moment that you're like me. You and I, we didn't watch the All-Star Game. And we're not alone:
The 2010 MLB All-Star Game hit an all-time record low in ratings Tuesday night -- and even drew fewer viewers than the Pro Bowl. FOX drew a 7.5/13 final rating and 12.118 million viewers for the MLB All-Star Game Tuesday night.... This marks the lowest rated MLB All-Star Game ever (no other game had even dropped below 8.0), and the least-viewed since at least 1981.
That article, from the Sports Media Watch blog, also goes on to note that the game barely outdrew America's Got Talent on NBC, and that among viewers 18-49, it lost in the ratings to an episode of Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel. More people watched the two highest-rated World Cup matches than watched the MLB All-Star Game.
It's pretty safe to say that this was the least-watched All-Star Game in history, according to The Biz of Baseball, which has numbers available going back to the first TV broadcast in 1950. (Some of the past numbers are unbelievable; in 1951, the All-Star Game had an 89 share, meaning that nine out of ten TVs in the country that were on were tuned to baseball on NBC. Nowadays, if NBC broadcast an exclusive live feed of the apocalypse, it wouldn't draw an 89 share.)
You may think that I'm getting nostalgic for my childhood or for some bygone pastoral time, but it really wasn't that long ago that the All-Star Game was pretty well-viewed. In 1989, the last time the game was in Anaheim, the game drew a 33 share - one-third of all TV viewers that night were watching baseball. In 1994, more than a quarter of viewers watched the game.
This is not to say that ratings haven't been declining over time, because they absolutely have, but dropping down to a 13 share is by far a new low. Some of this is, of course, attributable to Tim McCarver's apparent single-handed campaign to ruin baseball one national broadcast at a time, but more than anything, it's just that nobody seems to care.
Once again, though, I'll assume that you're like me -- and you're here to help. Below, three things baseball can do to make the All-Star Game interesting again -- along with three things it shouldn't do, because they won't work.
DO: Get rid of interleague play.
Interleague play was a post-strike novelty to get the fans back, but it's starting to wear out its welcome. The novelty has worn off; it results in wildly unbalanced schedules, which puts a dent in the fairness of pennant races; and except for teams that have a natural rival in the other league, it's generally pointless overall. Remember the "This Time It Counts" slogan that baseball used when it started awarding World Series home-field advantage to the league that won the All-Star Game? It missed the point; the game actually used to mean something, as it was the only non-Series interaction we ever got between the two leagues. Why would fans watch now? We just saw these guys play each other for most of June.
DON'T: Switch up the teams and play "North America vs. the World."
The NHL tried this for five years. It thought it would be more interesting than West vs. East. What they found out is that even fewer people care when you create two artificial teams; you might as well play "Last Names A-M vs. Last Names N-Z".
DO: Dump the notion of awarding home-field advantage to the league that wins the game.
With the possible exception of Yankees fans that assume their team will be in the World Series every year, fans don't care about this. No fan has ever thought to himself, "Well, this game SEEMS meaningless, but I should watch anyway because it'll affect my team." At best, most of us are in a panic about whether our team will make the playoffs. Thinking ahead about World Series home-field advantage just seems ridiculous.
DON'T: Hand out prize money to the winners.
Sure, it'd make everybody play hard, but during what's supposed to be a celebration of baseball, do you really want to remind people that baseball players would kick their mothers down a flight of stairs for another paycheck? Fans would refuse to watch on principle.
DO: Have an pre-assigned manager for each league that picks the teams.
Yes, this system would be ripe for stupidity and bad choices -- but so is the current system. It'd drum up interest throughout the first half of the year as people speculated on who the two managers would pick for their teams. If some up-and-coming youngster was having a breakout campaign, baseball could send his league's manager to sit conspicuously in the stands behind home plate, and everyone could write about how the manager was "scouting" the youngster as a possible All-Star pick. It would remove the element of ballot-box stuffing, which is ludicrous, and it would remove the yearly occurrence of managers picking their team's players as some sort of reward.
Plus, it'd be fun to get old managers involved. We could see Bobby Cox get thrown out of a game once per summer for years and years. It'd be glorious.
DON'T: Let Tim McCarver announce another All-Star Game ever again.
Maybe this is where we get the fan balloting involved: let fans vote for who they want to call the game. Then, I suppose, baseball would have to beg runaway winner Vin Scully to call the game every year, but it seems like it could be done.
Seriously, though. McCarver has been in the booth for the last ten and for 19 of the past 25 (and Joe Morgan was there for four of the other six, which is not an improvement). That this coincides with a nosedive in the ratings for the game is not just a coincidence. Wouldn't you rather hear almost anybody else call the game? Wouldn't you rather vote for somebody else (if for no other reason than to vote against McCarver)? About the only worse thing would be Hawk Harrelson in the booth, and we could just save that by making a rule that White Sox fans aren't allowed to vote.
It's time for baseball to realize that they're wasting a chance for Midsummer excitement -- and the TV ratings that'd go with it. It's time to fix the All-Star Game.