Among the most anticipated All-Star break events is the
coveted Home Run Derby (presented by State Farm?). This competition is one of ESPN’s most highly
rated programs of the year, yet they seem to find a way to drag it out and make
it harder and harder to watch. It now lasts
2 hours, which is extremely irritating.
Have the people at ESPN and MLB lost touch with their public and if so,
what should be done to make it more enjoyable?
I love the home run derby. Just like I love the slam dunk contest. And it’s quite obvious that we are not alone in these sentiments. Nothing really highlights a big game like a monster shot to left field or an authoritative dunk. And even when both are taken out of context, they’re still spectacular to see. However, the powers that be are aware of this, too, and as I’ve said many times before, sports today exist for the purpose of entertainment and entertainment is all about making money. In that respect, the slam dunk contest and the home run derby are American capitalism at its finest. And, when you take it into context, it kind of makes sense.
Let’s set the scene. First off, the derby didn’t even come into being until the 1985 All-Star Game. In January of 1985, Ronald Reagan took the oath of office for a second time after destroying Walter Mondale the previous November. It seemed that America had finally regained some of the swagger it lost during the oil shocks of the 70’s and the debacle in Vietnam. And really does anything allow for swagger quite like a home run? The derby was a natural outgrowth of the Reagan 80’s and it’s current form owes much to Reagan and the evolution of capitalism during that decade.
Capitalism demands increasing returns on investment to keep investors sated. And there are no bigger investors in sports today than ESPN and the major broadcast networks who feed our need for 24 hour entertainment. Miss the 11:30 SportsCenter and it’s still waiting for you at 12:30. They live to serve but they also exist to make money. It’s like CNN and politics. As much as they said they wanted the Democratic primary to be decided they also lived for the idea that it might be fought all the way to the convention because then they’d have something to keep people coming back. Well, the derby keeps baseball fans coming back every year and it makes sense that the networks would take advantage of our fascination with these feats of uberhumanity.
If people tune in to watch the event, they’re probably going to stay until the end to see who wins. ESPN knows they have a captive audience. But ESPN makes its money from selling advertising at the highest possible rate and they get the highest possible rate by televising events that draw in key demographics. It’s the perfect storm and they want the storm to last as long as possible. Playing the derby out over rounds and allowing as much advertising as possible means that a fun event becomes interminable for the fans but it means that the network is going to pocket a nice chunk of change from everyone who ponies up tens of thousands of dollars to parade their products across the screen during every little break. We may not like it but this is the two-edged sword that is American capitalism.
So, let me try to answer your question simply. Have ESPN and MLB lost touch with their public? No, not at all. They know exactly how long we’ll stick around and they’re going to make sure that McDonalds, Pepsi, Axe Shower Gel and State Farm get in as many pleas for your business as possible. That’s America and that’s the reality. And even though it sometimes annoys me, I still love it.