Bill Simmons is Wrong, Again

My love/hate relationship with ESPN’s very own Bill Simmons takes a turn for the worse this week, as the Sports Guy writes a column in which he tries to figure out why Red Sox TV viewership is down this season — and comes to the most ludicrous conclusion possible.

According to Simmons, ratings for the Red Sox have declined in the Boston area for a variety of reasons:

Injuries: 10%
Front-Office Paralysis/Inadequacies: 5%
The Hangover: 15%
The Bandwagon Effect: 5%
The Steroid Era Hangover: 5%
The Decline of Baseball in General: 5%
The Time of the Games: 55%

We can group his potential explanations into three distinct categories.

Category I: Specific Sox-Related Reasons (15% total)
The idea that injuries and disappointing personnel moves have hampered ratings is fair, but doesn’t go nearly far enough. We’ll get back to that.

Category II: Provincial Boston-Specific Reasons (20%)
Here’s where our boy starts wading into troubled waters. In “The Hangover” section, Simmons implies that Boston fans preferred the good old days before the Red Sox won the World Series, and hence validating the beliefs of everyone who’s ever thought that Boston fans enjoyed their misery much more than they ever enjoyed winning. Nothing beats the unique high that comes from that moment you’ve been hanging on the cross so long that all the blood has run out of your brain and through your palms.

Now, Simmons explicitly states that he and all Boston fans prefer winning the title over the years of suffering — but every other word in this column contradicts that. Like:

When things finally turned in 2004, and then again in 2007, deep down, we all knew it would never be quite the same.

But his next reason, “The Bandwagon,” abandons deep-rooted Beantown martyrdom for mind-boggling gaps in logic. Here, Simmons argues that because there are so many bandwagon Red Sox fans, the true fans don’t care as much; hence, the ratings decline. Um…wouldn’t the legions of bandwagoneers cancel that out or even outnumber those who are jumping ship? Winning teams never lose money because they are winning. Only in Boston could such an inane theory even be proffered.

But even that self-pitying, self-glorifying drivel can’t compare with…

Category III: General Problems with Baseball

Red Sox ratings are down. Ergo there are significant problems with all of baseball. Cause and effect, you guys.

The most damning indictment of Simmons’ preposterous theory? MLB ratings are not down across the board — they’re essentially steady, according to the Sports Business Journal article that first reported on the Boston decline. So while baseball may indeed have problems (like every other sport), that doesn’t begin to explain the Red Sox TV dip.

Steroid hangover? Sure, it turns some people off. The decline of baseball in general? There may be some chinks in the armor, but this is provably untrue, as has been discussed here several times before. Games are too long? The average MLB game time is about 2 hours and 50 minutes. The average NFL game time? 3 hours, 7 minutes. And I think the NFL’s ratings are doing just fine. In other words, baseball’s got 99 problems but length of game ain’t one.

And even if those problems, and others, were hurting baseball in legitimate ways, we’d see those losses across the board, not just in Boston. Simmons, typical of a Boston fan, is so myopic and self-involved that he thinks if there’s an issue in Boston, there must be an issue everywhere.

No, there’s one simple truth that Simmons bafflingly overlooks: the Red Sox aren’t that good this year. And not as many people are going to tune in to watch a 3rd-place team. So yes, the injuries and poor moves in the off-season have contributed to the ratings drop — but only insofar as they contributed to the Red Sox having a disappointing season. Winning = ratings. It’s that simple. There’s no need to spill 5,000 words searching for mystical answers or trying to blame the state of the sport. Boston fans are tuning out because their team’s not winning. That’s 100% of the explanation.

I’m not even taking a shot at Boston fans by saying that. I think it would be true of almost any team. If they’re not living up to expectations, fan interest falls off. To claim that the length of baseball games is 55% of the reason for a ratings decline in one market is like saying Obama got elected because of America’s unquenchable thirst for a black president.

The Dilemma: Policing out-of-control Boston sports fans on the Internet since 2010. You’re welcome.

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3 Comments

Filed under Sports Has AIDS, The Dilemma

3 responses to “Bill Simmons is Wrong, Again

  1. Pingback: That’s… That’s Bill Simmons’ Jumping-The-Shark Music | Pop Culture Has AIDS

  2. Scott

    ESPN has long been thought of by us West Coast fans as having East Coast bias. What I’ve seen for at least the past year is far more appalling- it’s an all our war on baseball, and it’s disgusting. To the extent that Colin Cowherd talks about baseball, it’s bash it, and talk about how much more popular the NFL is. Jason Smith said that baseball this year is basically just “killing time between Strasburg starts”, and of course, we have to hear how football training camp MUST be covered at all costs because, gosh, did you hear how much more popular the NFL is? Remember that this is the same network that rammed SOCCER down our throats for a month, and Smith in particular can’t stop talking about how “soccer has arrived”, thanks to his (and presumably our) new hero, Landon Donovan.

    None of this is to say that baseball doesn’t have its problems. IMO, it’s largely an IMAGE problem, which I don’t even understand how it come about- ie. “The Yankees always win!” (always, presumably, being once every 9 years. When asked to comment on the Yankees’ dominance over baseball wrecking competitive balance last decade, The Lakers and and Patriots had no comment.) But ESPN, still (sadly) the premier conduit for sports across America, should be trying to IMPROVE the reputation of our national pasttime, not join in the bashing. But I guess they’re more interested in promoting soccer now.

  3. David Simon Cowell

    I, too, did not enjoy the column. In fact, I couldn’t even get past the first few paragraphs. Although, I’m guessing my reasons were different. Baseball has become so boring that I can’t even get myself interested when my favorite writer addresses one of the teams I have some interest in. I’ve been to four baseball games this year, and each of them has felt twenty-hours long. Anybody who claims that the length and pace of baseball games isn’t a huge problem for the sport is living in Fantasyland. I put down the column thankful that Simmons is as over baseball as I am, and spends most of his time these days addressing more relevant sports.

    And, as a Cubs fan, I can tell you that my interest in the team will only hold until they win the World Series. So, the idea that Red Sox fans feel that something has been lost with their victories seems anything but false to me.

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