It’s become a yearly ritual: immediately following each baseball postseason, we see a spate of stories telling us that television ratings for the playoffs and World Series were the lowest since ten years ago … or twenty years ago … or since forever. And we’re bound to see just such a thing again this year–so we have something to look forward to, no matter which team comes out on top.
Usually, there’s a whole lineup of suspects that get blamed for baseball’s ratings downturn: a more fragmented audience, greater competition from other sports and non-sports programming, the nature of the game (a.k.a. “baseball’s too boring for modern audiences”). It’s any of those things, or it’s all of those things, depending upon whom you ask.
Here’s another thought: has anyone ever considered that maybe, just maybe, the ads are to blame?
Complaining about advertising may be as much a national pastime as baseball is, or used to be; it certainly is here at the DFR. But watching this year’s playoffs has really brought home just how annoying the advertising during these games has become–almost to the point where it makes sense that the commercials may be actually driving viewers away.
Can I pause here and take a moment to express how much I hate those commercials? I can? Oh, good.
I hate those commercials.
Specifically, I’ve quickly come to loathe a couple of offenders. That Apple Watch ad with the guy howling about “POWERRRRRRRRR!” or whatever it is he’s yodeling over that montage of people exercising with their watches… Even a long term Apple user like me would be abandoning the brand after hearing that aural attack again and again, even if the company’s quality control hadn’t already gone into the toilet. (It has.)
I’ve also had more than enough of that Taco Bell commercial, the one with the Terminator movie storyline. If it was clever the first time I saw it, that ad now–after the 175th viewing, at least–seems very, very dumb.
And that’s kind of the point. The handful of ads that run during the playoff games are just that: a handful, a very small stable of commercials that run ad nauseum, over and over again, until even the most sympathetic viewer has to be turned off by them. Is that Taco Bell commercial clever? I honestly don’t know; I can’t tell after having been bludgeoned over and over again by that little 30 second vignette. And, worst of all from the advertiser’s perspective, it sure doesn’t make me want to head for my nearest Taco Bell.
I don’t remember it being this way in the past. Ads have been a part of baseball broadcasts forever, particularly postseason games, but the commercials that would fill the gaps between innings in days of yore were more like a normal set of ads, a varied set of spots like you’d see during any other broadcast. The idea of saturating the game with the same run of ads, over and over again, seems to be a new (and unwelcome) innovation.
And of course it’s exacerbated by the greater number of rounds of games in today’s playoffs. When it was just the LCS and the World Series, there weren’t as many ad slots available, and even a short list of ads would not be so obtrusively repetitive. But now, with Wild Card games and four Division Series–seven series in all instead of just three, plus two play-in games–constant repetition is as inevitable as it is undesirable.
Eventually, viewers have to start feeling like Alex Delarge in A Clockwork Orange: being forced to watch these horrors over and over again, as if they were trussed up with their eyes held open. Is there any doubt, then, that at least some potential viewers must be turning off the games because they just can’t take it anymore?
The ultimate irony in all this? It’s for the sake of the advertisers that anyone cares about the ratings. It’s to please the sponsors that the networks want to achieve maximum eyeballs–pried open or otherwise. It is, it seems, the sponsors themselves who are as much to blame for the fact that their messaging is reaching a dwindling audience.
Unfortunately, whether the advertisers are receiving their deserved comeuppance or not, the rest of us–simple baseball fans–are being tormented by this mind-numbing repetition, at best, or being driven away from the games we love at worst.
That’s the crazy fact: the playoffs are contested to determine which team is the ultimate winner–but it’s everyone else involved who are being forced to lose.