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:
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.