SBD/March 20, 2013/Events and Attractions

WBC Breaks Total Attendance Record; TV Ratings Down In U.S.

Dominican players competed with a demonstrative, joyous style of play
The '13 World Baseball Classic, won last night by the Dominican Republic, finished with a total attendance of 885,212, a new event record. The total includes games played last fall in the WBC's new qualifying round. The event attendance for games played since the full tournament began March 2 was 781,429, down 2% from the 801,408 posted for the '09 event that did not have qualifier games. Last night's tournament final at AT&T Park drew 35,703, representing the third straight non-sellout for the championship round games in S.F., with the title game played in a light yet steady rain beginning in the third inning. The AT&T Park attendance totals were posted even after tickets were dynamically priced as low as $5 for the semifinal games and $8 for last night's contest. The attendance totals also include about 2,000 donated tickets for each of the three championship round games to charitable, youth and military groups. But Giants President & CEO Larry Baer, like MLB, said the goal of the WBC is "not to sell tickets in March in the U.S. for baseball games, but to accelerate the growth of baseball outside of the U.S. And by that measure, it's hard to say it's anything but a success." Asked if the Giants would look to host future WBC games, Baer said, "We'd do it again, sure" (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Brian Costa wrote the rain last night "did little to dampen the enthusiasm" of the crowd. The game was played to a "backdrop of fog horns, whistles and a blur of both Dominican and Puerto Rican flags" (WSJ.com, 3/20). Meanwhile, in L.A., Bill Shaikin reported the Giants have "fielded complaints from season-ticket holders upset that they paid top dollar for guaranteed seats to the three games here, only to see tickets discounted to as little as $5." Baer said the Giants are "reaching out" to disgruntled fans (LATIMES.com, 3/19).

WE LIKE WHAT WE SEE: MLB Exec VP/Business Tim Brosnan called the tournament "an unqualified, over-the-top success, a home run," pointing in part to strong TV ratings in numerous countries represented in the tournament, improved play by teams such as Italy and the Netherlands compared to '09, and the visible, animated passion displayed on field by the Caribbean teams. "We were just talking this afternoon about the whole passion element with a group of owners, and what we saw on the field was just so refreshing to see," Brosnan said. "These guys are great for baseball." Brosnan dismissed concerns stemming from the muted fan response in S.F. and elsewhere in the U.S. due to the earlier elimination of Team USA. "It's easy to talk about the negatives, but for every one of those negatives, I can easily give you a hundred positives about what this tournament did." Brosnan said the league is "one thousand percent committed" to reviving the event again in '17, with qualifiers beginning even as soon as '15. Brosnan said there are "a thousand possibilities" on the host city for the '17 WBC championship round, but no decision has been made. He did not dismiss the possibility of staging the final games outside the U.S., but added "there are significant logistical challenges, among those being time and distance" (Fisher). Brosnan said of criticisms that the WBC cannot succeed if Team USA is not successful, "Those are the people who aren't here. Those are the people who weren't watching." He added that the '17 WBC field could potentially expand "from the 28 countries in this edition." MLB officials "reveled in the lively atmosphere" after last night's championship game (L.A. TIMES, 3/20).

THE CRITICS: In Boston, Christopher Gasper writes the WBC has been the "equivalent of background noise on the American sports scene this month." WBC "might as well stand for Who Bleepin’ Cares in baseball’s birth country." The "dispassionate stateside following of the WBC is yet another reminder for Major League Baseball that baseball might be America’s pastime, but it has ceased being America’s passion." But the relative "lack of serious interest in the WBC seems to be an American phenomenon." Around the "rest of the baseball world, the WBC has been a home run" for MLB. Gasper: "The question MLB doesn’t want to answer or confront is why the WBC has not taken off in the US? Why it’s regarded as being no different than spring training games." The WBC is an event with "great potential," but it is "not a great sports event yet" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/20). YAHOO SPORTS' Kevin Kaduk gives five ways to improve the WBC, including to "hold this thing in summer already." The WBC will "never become all that it can be as long as they continue holding it at a time when no one's in top shape and most of the country is busy picking their NCAA brackets" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/20). Sportsnet analyst and former MLBer Jack Morris said of the WBC, "If I was an owner I wouldn't let anybody play." Morris: "Spring training is not a great time for it. You don’t want guys getting hurt" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/20). SI.com's Tom Verducci writes if Team USA is "going to do anything in this tournament, it should have the American players report to a team training camp, not to their MLB camps." The team would be the "31st team in spring training and train and play games together against other MLB teams before the tournament" (SI.com, 3/20).

THE PRAISE: In S.F., Bruce Jenkins writes, "Whatever it meant in the United States, where bad timing and conflicting agendas destroyed all hope for nationalistic theater, it was the Dominicans' perfect stage, a game televised worldwide in more than 200 countries and in 15 different languages." Jenkins: "Crass observers aren't going to remember much more about the WBC than the fierce, first-round brawl between the Mexican and Canadian teams in Phoenix, but they will badly miss the point. This tournament gave us a look at the vast mural of cultural identity in baseball, from style to strategy to the ethics of celebration" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/20). CBSSPORTS.com's Danny Knobler writes the WBC has "plenty of faults." But "don't try to explain them to these players, or these fans" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/20). MLB.com's Lyle Spencer writes the '13 WBC "lived up to its billing." It was "by any measure an unqualified success." A "novel idea when it took shape in 2006, the Classic has become part of the sport's culture and fabric." Dominican Republic assistant coach Alfredo Griffin said, "This was the best Classic. Players were in better shape. There were some teams with great talent that didn't get to the (Championship Round)" (MLB.com, 3/20) FOXSPORTS.com's Jon Paul Morosi writes, "America’s national pastime is rarely as entertaining, as passionate or as visually captivating as it was over the past three days -- when, it should be noted, America was not involved" (FOXSPORTS.com, 3/20).

INTERNATIONAL APPEAL: ESPN.com's Jim Caple writes, "As usual, the tournament took a backseat in America to college basketball bracketology and spring training stories about players who claimed they are in great shape." But if Team USA was a "disappointment, the third WBC was a success in many other ways." Games in Japan "drew higher ratings than the Olympics." The March 8 extra-inning game between Japan and Chinese Taipei "drew the highest cable rating in Taiwan's history" (ESPN.com, 3/20). MLB.com's Sam King notes when Puerto Rico defeated Japan on Sunday, 74% of TVs in the Puerto Rico were "tuned in during the final moments." It was the "highest-rated sports broadcast in Puerto Rico in the last year" (MLB.com, 3/20). The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin writes with the WBC "going to the MLB Network from ESPN, ratings have plummeted." Last night's "late-starting" championship game "won’t help U.S. numbers, either." But in Canada, the WBC was on the national carrier Sportsnet, "hence beefier numbers than those on cable gypsy MLB Network." Sportsnet’s national coverage to date has seen an increase of 197% over the '09 "average audience of 96,000" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/20). MLB.com's Alyson Footer noted Japan "had more reporters covering" the WBC than any other country" (MLB.com, 3/19). Dominican Republic P Octavio Dotel said that he "hoped fans would understand that the Dominican team treated this as it would the Caribbean Series, with a demonstrative, joyous style of play" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/20).
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