A lot has been made of what the ratings have been for major league baseball this fall. Comparison’s have been drawn to the past to represent the dying sport.
But numbers and stats are what you make of them. A critic, and it seems that most people would prefer being critical to positive, points to what the number of people watching was 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 40 years ago and says, “Look at this!”
In 1971 50 million watched the World Series. Today, barely over 10. Of course, that is the short story that best fits the arguement.
Spread it out and realize that there are infinite more options on TV for the viewer, 700+ TV channels not to mention internet and other forms of nightly entertainment. Modern ratings also can’t account for the variety of different ways we watch sports today. They can’t take into account the number of us watching at somebody else’s house or at a sports bar.
Even more importantly, consider the context. The World Series in 1971 was the 8th most watched TV show that year. The World Series in 2011 is the 8th most watched TV show this year! Does that represent a dropoff?
David Whitley writes here  in more detail on how times have changed, and mostly for the positive.
Sports are all the same. Bigger markets with successful teams, especially those with a long history of success drive up ratings. Sports, baseball, basketball, and yes, even football benefit from certain teams doing better. That will never change. At it’s heart, fans of the more popular teams are still fans of the sport, and still watch the games after their team is eliminated. Any good sports league has to have some sort of parity or it won’t function correctly.
The NBA is fighting that battle now. It’s great to have Lakers-Celtics Finals, but less people will care if it happens every year. You need fans in Milwaukee, New Orleans, and Orlando to believe they have a shot to win, or the sport will become less interesting.
Baseball isn’t in trouble without the Yankees or Red Sox. The World Series has been terrific so far. There might be more of you out there missing it, but thats because there are just more of you out there.