The Media Column: Plenty to pick on Red Sox for, but this season, let's retire tired 'popularity' storyline

Alex Reimer
March 28, 2019 - 1:40 pm
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There is lots of rightful indignation directed towards Major League Baseball for its steadfast refusal to modernize the game and pick up the pace. The pitch clock, which commissioner Rob Manfred and Red Sox ownership have championed, won’t be implemented until at least 2022 ––   when the CBA expires. The obstinance is maddening and makes you want to denounce the sport entirely. 

Looking for an outlet to vent our frustration, we direct our annoyance towards the hometown nine. The Red Sox won the most games in franchise history last season and bulldozed their way to a World Series title. And yet, they were mired with questions about their likability and popularity, as they finished with their best TV ratings since 2013.

This season, I pledge to do better. That doesn’t mean my screechy voice won’t spend the summer caterwauling about David Price’s latest media snub or Matt Barnes’ inability to keep his command during a high-leverage spot. The Patriots won the Super Bowl less than two months ago, and we’re already invoking doomsday scenarios about their upcoming campaign, which starts in September.

We are inherently negative, because rage fuels talk radio and punditry. Even though Republicans controlled all three branches of the federal government for the last two years, Fox News spent the bulk of its time railing against the supposed Deep State trying to take down President Trump. MSNBC rode Russiagate to record-high ratings, taking advantage of outraged liberals dying for Trump’s win to be expunged. 

But the whole narrative about the Red Sox not being popular must die off as quickly as Rachel Maddow’s next Russian conspiracy. Yes, they are well behind the Patriots and NFL, just like everything else in the country. NFL games accounted for 46 of the 50 most-watched shows on TV this fall. This is not a new revelation. 

Baseball is in trouble nationally. Even a Red Sox-Dodgers Fall Classic couldn’t boost its fortunes, with the two storied franchises and star-powered teams drawing the fourth-lowest ratings in World Series history. 

But Boston remains largely insulated from baseball’s national free-fall. While the overall World Series numbers were poor, they were relatively strong in Boston, with the clinching Game 5 garnering a 43.2 number. Radio ratings were good, too.

In the interest of fairness, the rating for the clinching Game 6 in 2013 was 55.2, so the Red Sox fell more than 22-percent. But they still walloped the 21.9 number the Celtics drew for their Game 7 against the Cavs last spring. 

The Red Sox dominate the Celtics and Bruins in the TV ratings, with their average number from last season often doubling or tripling what our two winter teams attract on a nightly basis. For example, the Bruins drew their largest number of the season on NESN Monday, garnering a 4.0 household rating for their matchup against the Lightning. 

The Red Sox’ average household rating on NESN last season was 6.8. 

Celtics ratings were down 27-percent through the first half of the season, with even matchups against conference rivals failing to bring in the sporting masses. The Jan. 16 Celtics-Raptors contest, which featured Kyrie Irving hitting the game-icing three from approximately 50-feet behind the arc, drew a 1.5 rating on NBC Sports Boston.

That’s not to say the Celtics haven’t drawn some impressive numbers –– their primetime affair against the Lakers on Feb. 7 finished with a 5.8 rating on TNT. But that’s still lower than the average Red Sox total.

So yes, the Red Sox are less popular than they were six years ago, 16 years ago and 46 years ago. But let’s keep it all in perspective. They are judged by a much harsher standard than their winter brethren. In this town, they are the clear No. 2. 

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Media companies oppose Kraft’s motion to block salacious video: This week, sports legal analyst Daniel Wallach posted a court document showing an array of media companies, including ESPN, filed a motion opposing Robert Kraft’s request to seal the alleged salacious videotapes pertaining to his prostitution case. But there’s more conext to it than that. The consortium is related to all the evidence against the defendants, not just Kraft’s tape. There are other reaons the paperwork was filed. 

Still, it’s worth noting that ESPN, which has a multibillion-dollar partnership with the NFL, is aggressively reporting the story. The WorldWide Leader catches lots of flak for its perception of kowtowing to the NFL on certain issues. But they’ve covered the concussion crisis and the Kraft case as doggedly as anybody, except the Boston Globe. Which leads us to the next point ... 

Has the Globe been too hard on Kraft?: It’s been six weeks since Kraft was charged with two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution, and the Globe continues to breathlessly cover the case. This week alone, investigative journalist Bob Hohler penned a long piece detailing Kraft’s upbringing and some concerns longtime associates have about him. Dan Shaughnessy questioned his fitness to still run the Patriots.

And that’s just in the sports section. In recent weeks, the Globe has published a letter from survivors of the sex trade to scathing articles by metro columnists like Yvonne Abraham and Adrian Walker.

Whenever the Globe doubles down on an anti-Patriots or anti-Kraft story, it’s fair to question whether they same critical eye is cast upon John Henry’s Red Sox. The Globe hasn’t published a long-form Red Sox expose since chicken and beer in 2011, which predates Henry’s ownership of the paper. 

But it’s hard to find a comparable recent local story to Kraft. Though the legal charges are nominal, he’s one of the most famous businessmen in the country and it’s a tawdry crime. It also opens up the conversation to all sorts of issues, from the sex industry as a whole to societal power dynamics. There’s also the powder keg of the NFL and its previous seeming indifference towards domestic violence and female exploitation. 

Boasting a net worth of $6.6 billion comes with lots of advantages. But when you screw up, you get scrutinized. That’s the trade-off you make.

Weird for media members to cheerlead Belichick being rude to colleagues: It always baffles me when other media members applaud Belichick being rude to beat writers just trying to do their jobs. At the NFL owners’ breakfast this week, Belichick spoke for 43 minutes and offered 15.2 words per response. His most commonly uttered phrase was “we’ll see” (21 times). 

Sure enough, social media was filled with bloggers and national writers cackling about how Belichick is in “midseason form!” This doesn’t make any sense. It’s not a-holes like me or Marc James asking Belichick questions; it’s hard-working beat guys like Mike Reiss and Jeff Howe. Sometimes, it’s OK to say Belichick was in the wrong. 

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