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Baseball and the Economy: What Happened to TV Ratings?

2009 October 9
by John Palmer

Attendance at MLB games this past season was 6.9% lower than it had been the previous year. That is a HUGE drop. An intriguing question is, what happened?

  1. One possibility is that the rather sudden drop in housing prices and employment led people (individuals AND corporations) to cut back on their spending on entertainment, including baseball. If so, and if people’s tastes for baseball haven’t changed much, we should expect that the television ratings wouldn’t have changed much from 2008 to 2009. In fact, tv viewership might even have increased as more people stay home to watch the game on tv instead going to the ballpark in person. Of course the change in television programming (notably the change at TBS) from one season to the next will have confounded this effect.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to locate the full season ratings for 2009. One source I did come across said that as of late May, the tv ratings were about the same as they had been the previous season, but that was early in the season.

  2. Another possible explanation is that there was only one close play-off race, the AL Central. Most of the other play-off teams were well-decided a week or two or more before the season ended. If increasing numbers of the races were, in this sense, “less interesting”, that, too might have had an impact on attendance at the ballpark. If this hypothesis is correct, then tv ratings should have been lower in 2009 as well, especially near the end of the season.

In other words, the data on television ratings might help us discern the relative strengths of the two hypotheses. Given these competing hypotheses (both of which could be right, of course in varying strengths), can anyone shed any light on what happened with tv ratings this past season?

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