Of cause and effect

It’s remarkable to me that so many sports commentators completely lack the ability to understand the consequences of changes in the leagues they are covering, oftentimes of changes they themselves recommended.

Consider how Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk has no idea why viewership for the Major League Baseball All-Star game is down.

Tuesday’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game garnered an all-time low 8.7 million viewers, continuing a downward trend in that game’s popularity. In the 1970s the MLB All-Star game routinely topped 30 million viewers, and until 1996 it had never dropped below 20 million. Now the MLB All-Star Game has had fewer than 12 million viewers for six consecutive years.

Florio thinks it is due to cable and satellite TV packages allowing people to watch whatever teams they want. That may be part of it, but I assume the much more significant factor is this:

For the first time in Major League Baseball history, teams from the American League and National League competed in regular season, head-to-head competition during the 1997 campaign.

What happened is that MLB considerably reduced the distinction between the American League and the National League. So it should not be surprising that far fewer people care anymore about a competition between them as a result. There is no longer anything special about interleague play, it’s just part of the normal game now.

There is an important lesson in this for those NFL cretins who stupidly bemoan the fact that an 11-5 team in a strong division might miss the playoffs or be forced to play on the road against an 8-8 division winner. The more that differences between the eight divisions are enhanced, the more significance to a division title there is, leading to more interest in the playoffs and the playoff stretch run. It would make absolutely no sense for the NFL to go the way of the NBA, where divisions are irrelevant and it is only a team’s win-loss rank in the conference that matters.

Fortunately, the NFL seems to understand this, as in the last three years they’ve modified their scheduling to ensure that the last two weeks of the season are loaded with intra-divisional competitions that are, more often than not, significant.