Commentary

Number one gamble on TV

Updated: November 12, 2012, 4:38 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

One of the ways sports are judged is by TV ratings. Sometimes that makes sense, like with the World Series of baseball. That sport has become such a home-town specialty that World Series no longer automatically means baseball. It could be the World Series of poker, fishing, team roping. A good baseball team is a local hero, small market size no matter.

Baseball is too slow for kids, too competitive and time-consuming for glory-searching parents. Some entry level baseball players actually go to the minor leagues, image dad's embarrassment.

There are but two places to watch the World Series of baseball, the home ball park or TV.

You needed a magnifying glass to find the 2012 major league baseball ratings. It had the kind of numbers you'd find with a Saturday morning cartoon.

Judging sports like college football and horse racing by TV ratings is one of the more illogical exercises in sports media reactions today. It doesn't speak to the overall popularity of a sport. Where of a crisp fall afternoon or evening is the truest football fan? At the stadium: Each game day, millions of football enthusiasts go unrated.

There's only one place where you can get your fill of "Nashville," a new prime-time soap whose most familiar song is musical beds: on the tube. Horse racing is a gamble first, a spectacle, a spectator endeavor, second. Television is probably horse racing's second or third outlet the day of a major event, after race tracks and simulcast or off-track sites.

How many gamblers watch the horse races at home, twenty percent, twenty five?

The most recent Breeder's Cup Classic attracted a TV rating of 2.2. That's good. It beat most of the competition. The Classic appeared on Saturday night, traditionally TV's worst evening when reruns of stuff like "Bones" are shown, that festival of nerds where docs and scientists profess to enjoy pulling handfuls of organs out of decaying bodies.

A rating of 2.2 is roughly the equivalent of the number for the new hit show "Elementary," which is partially about a female Watson. Changing the sex of fictional character is the show business answer to this question: Is it true that you're completely out of ideas?

When last I participated in a ratings period, they sent me a book to be marked on the honor system. It takes courage to admit that you watched something like "America's Top Models All Stars" over the History channel. All rating systems can be vague. Just because a TV set is on doesn't mean anybody is watching.

One of the Triple Crown events fell in my rating book time span, but I was unable to give the sport its due because I watched the race at a simulcast venue, gambling and carrying on the way most horse race fans do.

Besides solid ratings numbers, another good reason to advertise on a gambling event on TV is that the winners will be ready to spend money.