Reason for night games plain as day

With revenues as a guiding light, prime-time World Series games have come a long way since '71


October 22, 2006|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,Sun reporter

To Bruce Kison, the importance of the moment was the event itself, not the shade of the sky. It lay in the stakes, not the stars.

A reliever for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kison appeared in Game 4 of the 1971 World Series against the Orioles, becoming part of a historical night at Three Rivers Stadium, but only because he was pitching at night.

Kison had no idea of its magnitude. Nor did he care.

"The big deal was the fact that we were playing in a World Series," said Kison, a Florida-based scout and former pitching coach with the Orioles. "I don't know if many of us recognized that it was the first night game, because that wasn't the significance of what we were doing."

Called upon in the first inning with the Pirates trailing 3-0, Kison held the Orioles scoreless over 6 1/3 innings. He allowed only one hit, and the Pirates rallied for a 4-3 victory. They won the championship in seven games.

"I wasn't worried whether it was a day game or a night game," he said. "I was just thrust into the action, and you're trying to do your job and perform."

Those tasks now occur only in prime time, when ratings are supposed to go up as the sun goes down.

"We all knew the reason why," said Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, who won Game 2 for the Orioles in the '71 Series. "You didn't have arbitration at the time, but you had a players union that was trying to become stronger and negotiate better salaries. So it was all about revenue. That's pretty understandable."

Commissioner Bud Selig has indicated that Major League Baseball might add a day game to the Series package in the future, which is met with enthusiasm in some circles, skepticism in others.

"I don't know what my optimism is of that happening, but I think that would be terrific," said Bob Gutkowski, a television consultant and former president of Madison Square Garden.

"Certainly on weekends, games should be on afternoons, 1 o'clock, 4 o'clock. I hope it does happen. It would be good for baseball and good for America's youth, and eventually I think it will reap some nice benefits. If done correctly, advertisers and the networks can get some real good PR out of it."

An executive at Fox Sports, who asked not to be identified, doesn't expect a change within the next seven years of the network's contract with MLB.

"A day game just means fewer people will watch, which means advertisers will pay less for the advertising, which means we'd have to pay baseball less, which means they'd have to give teams less, which means they'd have to give the players less," he said.

"Do you see that happening?"

`Simply for the ratings'

The games were moved to night as a means of increasing viewership, creating a financial domino effect. The more people watching after returning home from the office, the more money is generated.

"It was done specifically and simply for the ratings," Gutkowski said.

Neil Pilson, a television consultant and former president of CBS Sports, said night games draw more viewers by "a 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 margin."

"All the research and all the ratings clearly indicate that games in prime time allow a larger number of Americans to watch," he said. "We're still a nation that works during the day. Even if you're not working and watching television, you're probably watching on an unmetered set. The so-called office population, people watching it on mobile video or computers, for the most part they're not counted. You can argue there are more people watching during the day than you might think, and that's probably true. They're watching in bars and restaurants. You can't sell those people to advertisers."

You also can't force them to care. The first two games of last year's World Series between the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros averaged a 10.3 rating and 16 million viewers, slightly below the 10.7 average earned by the same games in the 2002 Series between the Anaheim Angels and San Francisco Giants - the lowest-rated in history. Last year's Game 1 was the least-watched World Series contest since '71.

So what can we expect this year? "They will probably be in the ballpark with last year," said Fox spokesman Lou D'Ermilio.

The past two World Series have ended in sweeps, the network's enemy.

"If this series goes six or seven games, we'll definitely do better than last year," D'Ermilio said. "Knock on wood, but I don't think there's been three sweeps in a row in the World Series, which is a good thing."

Logic dictates that more people are watching at night because they have access to televisions, but D'Ermilio notes the increased competition for their attention.

"You've got to remember that a lot of things have changed from 30 years ago," he said. "That was pre-cable TV, pre-Internet, pre-VCR, pre-DVD. I grew up in New York. We had six channels to watch in the '70s. Nowadays, it's a completely different environment."

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