Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fixing the MLB All-Star Game

“Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

If the Major League Baseball All-Star game could talk, it would probably say, “Why have all of you been hating on me so much this year? Hate the lame players who skip me or the some of the lamer ones who actually come. I still don’t know who Aaron Crow is or why anyone let Russell Martin into the stadium, let alone the clubhouse.”

Unfortunately, most people seem to heed Ice-T’s advice (he is a bit intimidating after all) and hate the game. People from Yahoo!, to the Miami Herald, to all sorts of places in the blogosphere have been—how can we put this nicely—discussing, sometimes vehemently, the lack of interest the MLB All-Star game (ASG) now generates.

It is true that the 2011 MLB All-Star game garnered the lowest ratings ever for an ASG, a 6.9 according to USA Today (By the way, a 6.9 rating means that 6.9% of all television equipped households in the United States—about 1,159,000, according to Nielsen estimates—were tuned into the game at any given moment. For a more complete definition of television ratings, go here.). Before we panic and say mean things about Bud Selig (which is usually fun) let’s logically consider what this low rating really means.
  • A closer look at the ratings from July 12, 2011, the night of the ASG, reveals that the All-Star game was the second most watched program of the night, behind America’s Got Talent (the fact that America’s Got t Talent is the highest rated show any night is scary and probably speaks to the downfall of society, but that’s a discussion for another time and probably another blog, like the TV Czar’s)
  • In the all important 18-49 demographic (to see why it’s important, click here), the ASG came in 2nd again to America’s Got Talent (one more side note about that show: If asked to pick the grammatically correct statement, I wonder how many Americans would choose “America’s Got Talent” over “America Has Talent.” Probably more than I want to know.). 
  • According to Daniel Fienberg at Hitfix, the ASG was able to beat America’s Got Talent in the ratings battle last year. 
  •  Other sources show that the ASG still does better on television than other sporting events, including the supposed almighty NCAA tournament.
What I take away from these points:

The All-Star game is still a pretty popular draw for a Tuesday night in July. Unless you’re Ricky Bobby, 2nd place isn’t bad. Also compared to other sporting events, especially similar ones (the Super Bowl doesn’t count, regular television doesn’t compare to it), the ASG is the obvious fan favorite.

Still ratings are dropping. Of course, due to segmentation, ratings are dropping for everybody. But, if the ratings are dropping, especially enough to start losing to a show it used to beat, then something is probably wrong. When something is wrong, the logical thing to do is fix it.

So let’s try. Below are my thoughts on how to improve the MLB ASG. Before I start, let me say that as I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of discussion on the web and television about how to fix the game already. So, you may have already heard a lot of my ideas before.


I’m approaching this with the sole thought of improving ratings. Higher ratings increase ad revenue, which in turn increases the amount of money FOX will pay MLB to keep showing the game. The lover of the game of baseball in me won’t agree with some of the suggestions I’m making. Love of baseball doesn’t increase ad revenue, though, higher ratings do.

Suggestion 1: Increase the fan vote

Right now, fans vote for starters and the 30th man on each team. Why not let the fans vote for more players? The lover of the game in me says because sometimes fans are stupid and vote for undeserving players. The ratings chaser in me says that if the players the fans want are playing then it’s more likely the fans will watch. Plus, fans have been voting somewhat smarter lately.

Let the fans pick the starting pitchers. If they can vote within 48 or so hours for the 30th man, they can vote within 36 or so hours for the starting pitchers.

Suggestion 2: Quit Being Socialist

America isn’t socialist (yet), and neither is baseball (okay, you might could make an argument, but go with me here). There’s no reason for every team to have a representative at the game. I can name every team in MLB and probably at least two players from every team, but I had no clue who Aaron Crow was until I started writing this article, and I watched the entire game. By the way, he’s a pitcher for the Kansas City Royals (stats here).

No offense to Aaron Crow, but he had no reason being on the AL roster. I’m not saying he’s not good, I’m saying that Ron Washington only picked him because he didn’t have another player from Kansas City. That’s dumb. Ron Washington should be free to pick the BEST players available, especially if the game means something. I’m willing to bet that the Kansas City fans that watched the game didn’t watch only for a chance to see Aaron Crow pitch. Those fans probably would have watched even if Crow didn’t make the team. The same is probably true for other teams with a token player. I know I wouldn’t be more likely to watch the ASG just because one of my sorry team’s players made the ASG solely because my sorry team had to be represented. In fact, I would probably watch the All-Star game just to see some actual good players and then be upset when my sorry team’s token player got in and took an actual good player’s playing time. Which brings us to my next suggestion…

Suggestion 3: Let the best play longer (or Quit Being Socialist, part B)

Fans want to see the starters (the players they actually pick) play, not get two at bats and hit the showers. The problem is, the coaches feel a duty (whether via pressure from big, bad Bud or not) to get everyone in. Again, no one wants to see Aaron Crow pitch (fortunately, he didn’t). 

One obvious way to find more playing time for the best players is to cut down the roster size, which becomes easy when we take away the “every team must be represented” rule. Allow for 16 position players (two at every position) and 13 pitchers (which should be more than enough for a game). That’s 29 on each roster, which is still 4 more than an actual roster carries. The difference with the proposed break down, though, is that each starting position player would play at least half the game.

Suggestion 4: Don’t Show Them the Money if They Don’t Show Up

The number of players not showing up to this year’s game has been well documented. If a player doesn’t want to play, that’s his prerogative, but that doesn’t mean he should get his all-star bonus. A legitimate injury is one thing (that calf didn’t look too sore when you were rounding the bases for number 3,000, Captain), but simply resting or just choosing to skip the game should result in the forfeiture of the bonus.

You have the power to make this happen, Bud. Just convince your owners (without colluding of course), to stipulate in player contracts that the all-star bonus is only applicable if they go to the game, barring an injury that results in being placed on disabled list.

There’s obviously more that can be done to improve the game, but I’m up to almost 1,400 words, so I’m going to wrap things up. Like I said, you can find many great suggestions all over the interwebz. In short, my ideas for improving the ASG focus on improving ASG ratings and are:
  • Let the fans have more say in the vote, such as but not limited to voting for the starting pitcher. 
  •  Don’t select a player from every team just to select a player from every team. 
  •  Cut down on roster sizes so the starters can play more. 
  •  Don’t pay the players unless they show up for the game.
All of these ideas involve giving the fans more of the players they actually want to see. It may not always be the best way for getting the most deserving players in the game, but more often than not those that deserve it will still make it. Feel free to leave your ideas for the ASG in the comments below.

I’ll leave you with suggestions my wife gave me for improving the game:
  • More interviews with players with interesting tidbits about their lives. 
  •  Bribery (for instance: “Wednesday only: Tell a cashier at your local Taco Bell which team scored first and win a free taco!”) 
  •  Charitable cause (“Watch for the special four digit code, and then text, call, or enter that code on the Internet within 30 minutes. State Farm will donate $1 to cancer research for each entry.”) 
  •  Super Bowl halftime style concert during the 7th inning stretch (some ideas are better than others).


  1. I appreciate the blog shout-out. At some point, I am going to tackle the meaning behind our infatuation with these game shows. If you want good reality tv, watch The Challenge.

    To the All-Star game. I want more clauses in play for the big guys to play. Example: if you are voted in but don't go, you are not on the ballot next year. That, coupled with shrinking rosters, will increase player attendance. All-star games are still needed for a nice Hall of Fame resume.

  2. That's a good idea, too.

    Another idea I have for boosting AGS ratings that doesn't directly relate to the game itself is better marketing of the players. MLB has plenty of marketable players, but the league has usually done a terrible job getting players recognition outside of baseball. I know MLB is run by a bunch of old, white guys, but surely there are some young people somewhere that can create some creative marketing campaigns. The "MLB Always Epic" campaign is a start, but there are more interesting players/things in MLB than Brian Wilson's beard.

    I may expand this suggestion in an upcoming blog.