The number of radio and television hours devoted to major league baseball is staggering. By the time the sport's 850 radio stations and 215 television outlets finish broadcasting at the end of this season, more than 430,000 hours of air time will have been filled. If a person were to take in all the games that will be broadcast, he would have to spend every minute of every day for the next 48 years listening or watching.
Markets for baseball vary considerably, and several big-league teams have networks that are the envy of promoters in other sports. Not only does 50,000-watt KMOX in St. Louis boom all the Cardinal games, so do 119 other stations. The Reds have a 112-station hookup, and Atlanta, Boston, Detroit and Kansas City have networks composed of 50 or more stations. Excluding baseball's contract with the National Broadcasting Company at $18 million a year, more than $26.5 million is paid out in rights fees to major league teams. And since most stations make a good profit on their baseball programming, the total in advertising dollars paid out by breweries, banks and body-and-fender shops is far higher than that.
The Dodgers televise only about 25 road games a year back to L.A., but the team's main broadcasting thrust is on radio, which carries all 162 games, some in both English and Spanish. As many as three million people have listened to a single Dodger game during critical stages of a pennant race. The Dodgers produce and package their own shows, and estimates of the total rights fees they receive run as high as $2.5 million a year.
But income from fees is not the "bottom line" in baseball broadcasting. Getting the team's message out to the hinterlands is equally important. The Montreal Expos, for example, have used television and radio to familiarize Canadians with U.S.-style major league ball. Expo games are carried on 61 television stations (46 English-language and 15 French) and over 35 radio outlets that can be heard from west of Toronto to Prince Edward Island in the Maritimes. The most recent TV ratings for an Expo game indicated that 2.2 million people were looking in.
New York remains the biggest baseball broadcasting market, the Mets and Yankees battling over a TV audience numbering as many as 2.8 million viewers when the teams are on simultaneously, as they often are. Actually, it isn't much of a war. The Mets do half again as well as the Yankees in the ratings. But the Yanks are not the Mets' only victims. A month ago when soccer star Pelé made his American debut on TV, CBS' New York outlet drew 34%, of the audience following a blizzard of publicity. The Mets, playing San Diego, drew 15% more viewers. A tennis match in the same time slot on WABC lost out to the Mets by 1,100%.
This year both New York teams have gained appreciably in ratings. Following the much publicized acquisitions of Bobby Bonds and Catfish Hunter the Yankees increased their audience by nearly 35%. At the same time the Mets' numbers have risen 10%; one telecast attracted an astonishing 40% of all the viewers in the New York area.
The disparity in the size of the two teams' average TV audiences—1.4 million people for Met games to one million for the Yankees—is fairly easy to understand: New Yorkers long have favored the National League. But the overall increase in baseball's New York audience is more difficult to explain, particularly since Yankee fans must be somewhat clairvoyant to find out when their team's games will be telecast. Neither the station (WPIX) nor the Yankee announcers have done a good job of explaining what the scheduling policy is. The Yankees telecast approximately 70 games a year (down from 123 some 10 years ago), most of them on Tuesdays and weekends. But they sometimes skip Friday nights or an entire weekend when the club plays in certain Western Division cities from which transmission line costs are high. The Mets carry 120 games and make it a point to show many contests against Western Division opponents.
When the Mets still were foundlings, the Yankees started their decline. In the mid-'60s, they not only began losing a lot of games, but they also fired their best-known announcers, Mel Allen and Red Barber. From a broadcasting point of view, they have yet to recover.
Because the Mets have more viewers, their station, WOR-TV, can charge $1,250 for a 30-second commercial while WPIX receives only $900. And the Mets have helped increase interest in their players and those of other teams with a postgame show, Kiner's Korner. After all home games Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner talks to two players from the winning team, and by combining taped highlights with his considerable expertise and pertinent questions, he gives his show an informative, inside tone.
The Yankees do not have a postgame show. At the conclusion of an exciting night game WPIX switches directly to its "killer news," which specializes in coverage of death and destruction. It is frequently an unwelcome transition for sports fans.
New York's growing audience is not an isolated phenomenon. Local broadcasts across the country have added 20% to their ratings so far this year, an increase that has been accompanied by an overall improvement in baseball's attendance figures. This has occurred because baseball remains a most appealing sport and, just as important, tickets are both available and reasonably priced. The increase also indicates that predictions in recent years of the game's demise were somewhat exaggerated.