Bob Gibson died last Friday. In an era when pitchers dominated MLB, he was as dominant a figure on the mound as any of the greats from that time. In 1968, he pitched more than 300 innings to an ERA of 1.12. Please do not waste your time looking for any pitcher with remotely comparable stats over the last 40 years. Oh, did I mention that in that 1968 season he also threw 13 shutouts, 28 complete games and struck out 268 batters?
His ferocity as a competitor was legendary. Tim McCarver tells the story that Gibson was in some difficulty in a game and McCarver went to the mound to say something to Gibson. Gibson’s response was classic and ultimately dismissive:
“The only thing you know about pitching is that it’s hard to hit.”
Rest in peace, Bob Gibson.
With regard to MLB today, the playoffs are down to 8 teams – – where I would have preferred for them to begin. Obviously, the biggest surprise is the presence of the Miami Marlins in the MLB analog to the Elite Eight. Other than losing 105 games just last season there was every reason to believe the Marlins would still be playing baseball in October. Dwight Perry had this in his Seattle Times column regarding the Marlins:
“Retired baseball writer Jim Street, via Facebook, on the only thing more shocking than the Marlins making the NL playoffs: ‘They also tied for the MLB lead in home attendance.’”
Speaking of leagues in the midst of their playoffs – – and using a particularly awkward segue – – the TV ratings for the NBA Playoffs are down significantly this year. Moreover, according to reports, the decline is even worse than the raw numbers because for the first time, Nielsen has included “out-of-home” viewership in the ratings number. This means that Nielsen has adjusted the numbers to reflect one venue where large numbers of viewers were present – – such as a sports bar where an NBA Playoff game might be on some of the sets in house. These “Out-Of-Home (OOH) Adjustments” cannot possibly have diminished the Nielsen estimates for numbers of viewers.
Notwithstanding that upward adjustment, none of the Lakers/Nuggets games in the Western Conference Finals could attract 5 million viewers nationwide. For perspective, the Western Conference Finals in 2002 when the Lakers beat the Kings in a controversial Game 7, the estimated viewership – – with no “OOH Adjustment” – – was 23.8 million viewers. I know; 2002 was a long time ago; but that is a staggering decline in TV attraction nonetheless.
Some folks have opined on the reason(s) for this year’s decline e.g.:
- The champs this season are always going to be “asterisk champions” in the minds of fans so why pay close attention to these playoffs?
- NBA player protests diverted attention from the games to social justice issues and sports fans prefer to watch sports than social justice lectures.
- LeBron James fatigue – – every year the Finals are the same story with LeBron James versus the rest of the basketball world.
I do not think any of those three explanations hit the mark although I will concede that each of the three might have a secondary or tertiary effect on the low ratings. I think the problem is:
- The Calendar.
2020 is nowhere near a “normal year” but a lot of folks have accommodated the fact of its “novelty” and are in the process of reconciling their lives to the “Year of the Pandemic”. It is October; in October, the NBA is not normally playing basketball; in October, the NBA is just about to open up training camps so that they can start their season around November 1st with 6-8 weeks of games everyone is primed to ignore.
The NBA Finals “belong” in May/June. When that happens in a normal year, the NBA Finals go up against a different set of other attractions than this year. Normally, the NBA Finals contend with the Stanley Cup Playoffs/Finals, mid-season MLB games, the Triple Crown in some years and MLS games. From a TV ratings perspective in the US, that is not a difficult set of opponents for the NBA.
This year is quite different. MLB is having its playoffs now and while the early series of NBA games were going on, they had to compete with an MLB regular season where every game had a magnified importance due to the truncated season. That was a minor effect because the major effect is that this year’s NBA playoffs and finals are up against football – – college and pro – – and the NBA playoffs never had to worry about that kind of competition for attention in the past. A random regular season NFL game in prime time will comfortably draw 15-20 million viewers and sometimes 30 million. A look at the Washington Post sports section last weekend showed the following amount of coverage on Sunday 4 October:
- NFL: 243 column inches of content
- Coll Football: 144 column inches of content
- MLB: 45 column inches of content
- NBA: 30 column inches of content
- MLS: 22 column inches of content
- Preakness: 21 column inches of content
- Tennis: 20 column inches of content
- World soccer: 18 column inches of content
- WNBA: 15 column inches of content
- NASCAR: 10 column inches of content
- Golf: 10 column inches of content
October is “football time in the US” and not basketball time. The TV ratings reflect that, and the “area” devoted to football in the Post’s sports section reflects the perception of sports fans’ interest in various sports in the moment. The NBA mavens must figure out a way to avoid a conflict with “football season” in the future because the comparison is not a good look for the NBA.
Finally, Bob Molinaro posed this question about rescheduling in college basketball for the upcoming season:
“Hoop du jour: Now that the Maui Invitational featuring college basketball teams from around the country has been moved to Asheville, North Carolina, because of COVID-19 concerns, will coaches ditch their colorful Hawaiian shirts for red flannel?”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………