Game Four of the World Series on Sunday drew an average TV audience of 22.8 million viewers. That was the highest among the first five games and the largest baseball audience since 2004, when an average of 25.4 million people watched the Red Sox sweep the Cardinals for Boston's first title since 1918.
This will be spun as evidence that the big-market domination of Major League Baseball has its upside. That love-'em-or-hate-'em teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies make for compelling TV. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, sounding like Fargo's Jerry Lundegaard, will proclaim the game healthier than ever.
But that argument ignores another set of numbers from Sunday afternoon. Fox's broadcast of the Vikings-Packers game logged an average of 29.8 million viewers. A championship baseball game featuring two major markets can't keep pace with a regular-season football game in the smallest market in big-time sports.
Imagine what might happen if the economics of baseball were different - if teams like Milwaukee were better able to hold on to their top stars (instead of losing them to the big boys) and develop long-term team identities. Imagine if, instead of putting the Yankees and Red Sox on national TV each week, baseball invested some marketing capital in developing a national following for the Seattle Mariners or the Pittsburgh Pirates.
No imagination required. Just journey back to the 1991 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves. That boasted an average of 35.7 million viewers.