With the 2017 World Baseball Classic coming up, there is some legitimate concern for the future of the event. With the event still having trouble drawing in American players, TV deals coming to an end, a reported decrease in revenue compared to some of the earlier Classics, and baseball (at least for now) back in the Olympics, there is a chance that this coming WBC could be the last- at least as we know it- for awhile.
I’m here to argue for the future of the WBC, however, and why it should stick around with four reasons why. There are more reasons, but they are more “inside baseball” (politics, marketing, funding, etc.) so I won’t go into them.
Here we go:
1. The concept remains a good one.
While the execution has always been a bit wonky due to the event’s placement in March (the result of it being the best option due to there being no perfect time for the event), the concept remains sound: a baseball tournament between national teams. It is a simple but fun idea that provides lots of interesting possibilities and brings exposure to countries and players who normally don’t get seen.
2. It is more popular (and gets better ratings) than people think.
While it is true that ratings dropped greatly from 2009 to 2013, this more had to do with the fact that the games were moved to MLB Network from ESPN (if I remember correctly, it had to do with MLB wanting to further incentivize people having MLB Network). Still, those games still ended up being among the most watched events on MLB Network in history outside of postseason baseball, and the final of the 2013 Classic was the most-watched baseball game in the history of ESPN Deportes at the time.
This doesn’t include ratings from outside the Mainland USA. In Puerto Rico, for example, 74 percent (!!) of TVs turned on there watched the 2013 semi-finals where Puerto Rico upset Japan.
In addition, I anecdotally know that the WBC does well on social media, often getting topics “trending” on Twitter even when NCAA basketball is also going on.
So maybe the WBC isn’t as hated as people think?
3. It is a lot of fun. Definitely a lot more fun than Spring Training.
Even if the WBC cannot be truly considered an accurate determinant of what the best national baseball team in the world is, and even if it is at times a sideshow… what a fun sideshow it is! It certainly is more fun than lazy spring training games or, even worse, nothing at all!
Don’t believe me? Then you’ve probably never watched the WBC. That is the weird thing about the World Baseball Classic: those who have actually watched it seem to love it, while those who have never given it a chance seem to hate it.
Perhaps it is no surprise that some of the WBC’s biggest critics have been beat writers, who by necessity are focused nearly 100% on any given team and thus are likely to be covering a spring training game or doing some other story when the WBC is on, or they are taking a breather from baseball because that is what they had been covering all day. This isn’t their fault. In fact, it is proof they are doing a good job- they are working to get their readers the latest scoop on the Yankees/Mets/Red Sox/whoever just like they are supposed to. It does, however, mean that they have less time to actually watch the WBC and see what is good about it.
But anyway, that leads to my last bit…
4. The WBC is still young, and it can take time for things like this to catch on.
The early modern Olympics could be rated as anywhere from “qualified success” (1896) to “total and utter disaster” (1900 and 1904). It wasn’t until 1908 in London (the fourth Olympiad!) that it became anything close to the big deal it is today. Early World Cups lacked many top European squads, to the extent that in the first World Cup (1930) the United States finished third despite the fact that soccer was about the 19th most popular sport in America at the time, sitting somewhere between jai alai and the competitive beating-up of drifters. Okay, that last bit was an exaggeration. Somewhat.
It’s not just these big international events, though. The World Series was boycotted in 1904 because Jon McGraw considered it beneath him (and the 1903 World Series, contrary to popular belief, wasn’t the first showdown between the champions of two baseball leagues), and the first Super Bowl failed to sell out.
But what I am getting at here is that these things take time. With the exception of super-duper-why-haven’t-we-done-this-already-obvious ideas like the College Football Playoff, few things catch on immediately in sports.
So, the World Baseball Classic is still young. Only three tournaments have taken place. Why end it before it has truly had time to grow?
Next time on Baseball Continuum Weekly: BIZARRE BASEBALL CULTURE!