No, not the poker one—the World Series of baseball.
On Thursday afternoon, the Los Angeles Times wrote that the lopsided Giants victory caused the low ratings for game one of the World Series. "It didn't help matters that this game was over before it really started," they explained. "That gave viewers an excuse to go channel surfing." It was an optimistic theory, as it turns out.
Thursday's game two—which saw both starting pitchers dealing and tension until the end—brought in only another hundred thousand viewers, bumping the number up to 12.3 million from 12.2, and putting the average for the first two games, rounding up, at 12.3 million. The second game went up against Thursday Night Football, but the Bucs-Vikings match-up was on the NFL Network—which many homes still don't get—and itself lost viewers to the World Series, as TNF ended up with a couple million fewer viewers than usual (7.1 to 5.2). Moreover, if ever there was a game that encouraged channel surfing, it was that one, a laugher less than two minutes into the third quarter.
12.3 million viewers isn't an outlandishly bad number—in 2008, the Rays-Phillies series brought in an average of 13.6 million viewers over its five games (per Wikipedia), but that average was dragged down by a third game which drew only 9.8 million viewers after a 91-minute rain delay. No rain delays in San Francisco during the first two—just a lot of baseball going unwatched by a lot of people. While elimination games usually draw better ratings than the less freighted contests early in the series, it'll take some drama for Giants-Tigers to avoid being the least watched World Series since they started keeping track of the numbers in 1984.
Generations claim some sports and discard others: though football is frequently compared with boxing, in that safety concerns and squeamishness about the sports' brutality may one day hurt its commercial viability, it's baseball—family-friendly though it may be—that undermines its extravagant TV deals by drawing fewer eyeballs with each passing year. Those TV deals are still getting signed—with a truly mystifying number of zeros on the end—but they'll dry up after 2021. The median age of a typical World Series viewer is 52.5. If ratings keep falling, and the median age of the typical baseball viewer keeps rising—neither of which are guaranteed, but both of which would align with established trends—does the FOX-TBS-ESPN cabal renew their baseball broadcasting contract? Sure, in 10 years we'll probably be getting baseball zapped directly into our FaceSpace-brand DigiBrainz, and micro-targeting will probably devalue total viewership numbers. But in the meantime, there are some network executives wondering if they made a bad bet on the national pastime.