Playoff baseball turns bloody socks into priceless memorabilia, and 12-year-old suburbanites into folk heroes. It is maddening, unpredictable, and altogether emotionally draining. It is also, as the World Series–winning Red Sox illustrate, a dreadful chore.
The Red Sox defeated the Dodgers in five games to secure the franchise’s fourth World Series title since it ended its 86-year championship drought in 2004. With help from the pitcher David Price, who finally seemed to overcome his postseason demons, and the journeyman first-baseman Steve Pearce, whose three home runs in Games Four and Five earned him the MVP award, Boston managed to sustain its stellar regular-season play into October. But though the World Series provided its share of wonder, it is far from an instant classic. From games that stretched way past most people’s bedtimes to the obsessive nature of modern managing, staying engaged throughout the Red Sox’s run felt more like a duty than an escape. Major League Baseball has long been losing its grip on the title of America’s pastime, and the 2018 championship series is emblematic of why.
A Dodgers–Red Sox World Series should have been a cash cow. The bicoastal matchup pitted two of baseball’s most storied franchises, in two of America’s largest media markets, against each other. But the series’ audience size didn’t reflect its supposed import or historical bona fides. Ratings lagged for this year’s face-off, with Game One drawing in the fourth-fewest viewers of any World Series opener on record. Of course, Major League Baseball cannot expect to replicate the sky-high viewership of, for example, the 2016 World Series, when the Chicago Cubs captured their first title in more than a century and more than 40 million people tuned in to watch them do it. Still, the lackluster numbers have left MLB officials flummoxed, including Commissioner Rob Manfred, who told SportsBusiness Journal that league leaders “haven’t isolated a cause” for the dip. It’s not just the World Series that fell flat this year: Regular-season fan attendance cratered to a 14-year low in 2018, down by nearly 10 million people since its 2007 peak.