PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Major League Baseball's All-Star Game has no other sports competing with it for viewers or ad revenue this time of year, yet it still manages to lose fans and influence.
The latest installment -- played Tuesday at Target Field in Minneapolis -- joins a parade of recent All-Star matchups that have not only lost interest, but lost ground to other events. After the 2002 All-Star Game ended in a 7-7 tie, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig vowed it wouldn't happen again and decreed that the winner of the annual matchup between the American League and National League's most popular players would secure home-field advantage for the World Series.
Since then, the average audience for the All-Star Game dropped from a high of nearly 14 million in 2004 to roughly 11 million a decade later. The World Series, meanwhile, saw its ratings drop from 25.4 million for the first win for the Boston Red Sox since 1918 to just 14.9 million for their latest World Series win just a year ago.
Last year, the All-Star Game couldn't even crack the Top 50 most-watched sporting events of the year -- a list that included 46 National Football League games, two National Basketball Association Finals games and the college football and basketball championship games. Take the NFL out of the equation and the All-Star game ranks 33rd. Among the items ahead of it: college football bowls, regular-season college football games, The Masters final round, The Daytona 500, The Kentucky Derby, the entire NBA Finals, much of March Madness, Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals and the entire World Series.
It gets credit for drawing a bigger audience than Game 6 of last year's National Hockey League Stanley Cup Finals (8.16 million) and an early U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier (9.7 million), but not much. This year, that 11 million falls well shy of the average 21.4 million viewers who watched U.S. national team games during the World Cup and even falls short of the 17 million who watched Mexico take on the Netherlands in the Round of 16 and the 11.8 million who saw Brazil defeat Colombia in the quarterfinals on the Fourth of July. For some perspective, the All-Star Game's audience is roughly equal to the number of people who watched Mexico play Brazil on a Tuesday during the World Cup's group stage.
The All-Star Game is supposed to get drubbed by the Super Bowl, the NFL (with an average of 17.4 million per game in 2013) and even the Winter Olympics (33.1 million viewers, on average). But when the NBA Finals draw 17.7 million viewers per game and an opening-round World Cup match between the U.S. and Ghana draws 11.1 million viewers on ESPN alone (Univision viewers brought the total to 19 million), the All-Star Game's slow fade seems a lot quicker.
In the past 20 years, the All-Star Game has lost 50% of its audience. It hasn't drawn 20 million viewers since 1995 and last saw more than 15 million in 2001. An audience of 36.3 million like the game saw in 1976 isn't realistic anymore -- especially considering that the NFL's Pro Bowl drew only 11.7 million viewers this year -- but even 13 million has been considered uncharted territory for the past half-decade.
Still, from a network perspective, it beats the alternative. Broadcasting & Cable notes that The All-Star Game during the 2000s came in about 30% higher than that night's average prime time ratings. That's a bigger boost than it provided in the 1990s (27%) and 1980s (26%). That summer lull is a big reason why Major League Baseball came away with an eight-year deal for $700 million per season from ESPN alone the last time it negotiated its television contracts.
All-Star Game broadcaster Fox, meanwhile, just started an eight-year deal that pays Major League Baseball $500 million per year for rights to regular-season games, playoff games, the World Series and the All-Star Game. Compared with the $300 million each season Turner will pay over the same span for playoff access, that's not such a bad deal.
It's what makes Major League Baseball such a powerhouse regardless of how well the All-Star Game fares or how its demographics change. Baseball has one of the oldest viewerships in professional sports, with Nielsen reporting that 50% of its television audience is age 55 or older. Only NASCAR (49% age 55 and older) and golf (63%) are similarly aged. Yet baseball's $8 billion in revenue last year was second only to the National Football League's $9.5 billion and is greater than that of the National Basketball Association ($5 billion) and National Hockey League ($2.4 billion) combined.
It also helps that, according to Kantar Media, advertisers absolutely love to target that older demographic. The $575,000 that Fox is able to charge for a 30-second ad during the All-Star Game falls well behind the Super Bowl ($4 million), the NFC and AFC championship games ($1.64 million), the college basketball title game ($1.4 million) and the college football championship ($776,000). That said, it's more than ABC can charge during the NBA Finals ($492,000) and more than Fox gets for ads during the World Series ($465,000).
The All-Star Game's power continues to wane -- and a bit of summer company from the World Cup didn't make it look better by comparison -- but it's still the best thing television has to offer at this stage of the schedule. Though the All-Star Game won't have next summer to itself either, with the Women's World Cup returning after drawing 13.5 million viewers for its finale in 2011, it'll once again be just entertaining enough to just the right people to pay the bills.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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