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Schnepf: 'All-Star Game is lacking power'

FARGO — We watched in awe. Not only was the 1967 Major League Baseball All-Star game being beamed to 14 million households across America, it was the first time we experienced the brilliance of color television.

Glued to the Motorola set in the living room of our parents’ friends, we saw Bob Gibson, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Rod Carew, Carl Yastrzemski and Tony Oliva in living color — just as the NBC peacock promised.

In an era when the only channels you could surf were NBC, ABC and CBS, we were contributing to the 25.6 Nielsen rating that Tuesday night — one of the highest-rated All-Star games ever and much higher than what tonight’s All-Star game will draw.

Based on last year’s All-Star game, Major League Baseball will be lucky to reach 7 million households. That was a 6.9 Nielsen rating. Not nearly the interest this game generated back in 1967 — even though it took 15 innings to determine a winner.

With the TV’s color rays beaming on us, we watched All-Star hitters struggle to see the pitches in the twilight of the setting sun in Anaheim, Calif. The game started at 5 p.m. West Coast time so it could be televised on prime time.

We watched Philadelphia’s Dick Allen homer off of our Minnesota Twins’ Dean Chance in the second inning. We watched Baltimore’s Brooks Robinson homer off Chicago Cubs’ Ferguson Jenkins in the sixth.

Even though 30 batters would strike out, we remained seated in front of the TV. Even though our mother felt we were overstaying our welcome, our dad convinced her we could stay for the 3 hour and 41 minute marathon – which ended when Cincinnati’s Tony Perez hit a home run off of Oakland’s Catfish Hunter in the top of the 15th.

The National League won 2-1 – much to our dismay. We were cheering for the AL that included our Twins’ heroes like Chance, Harmon Killebrew, Carew and Oliva.

About the only thing Twins’ fans have to cheer about tonight is that the All-Star game will be played in Minnesota. But this game won’t have the drawing power it once had. “America’s Got Talent” or “Celebrity Wife Swap” could possibly draw more viewers.

Baseball – based on TV viewership – is less popular than ever. The World Series is no more popular than an airing of “The Big Bang Theory.” A Dec. 1 NFL game between the Redskins and Giants (with a combined record of 7-15) drew 17.7 million viewers – a higher total than all but one of last year’s World Series games.

The World Series ruled American TV ratings into the 1970s, with Nielsen ratings into the 30’s. That’s no longer the case.

The National Football League is now king of the airwaves. The 26 most-watched sporting events of last year were all NFL games. The only non-NFL game to crack the top 50 rated telecasts were Games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals and the NCAA football and men’s basketball championships.

With the rise of streaming services like Netflix, online video, video on-demand and devices that allow consumers to watch TV on their own terms, TV has seen more change this decade than the preceding half century.

That’s why Major League Baseball teams have adjusted – creating their own local TV contracts. The regional sports networks sprinkled throughout the country are now key drivers in cable fee increases – and baseball is a big reason.

It’s a far cry from Aug. 26, 1939 – when the first televised Major League Baseball game reached 400 TV sets in New York. Or when the first televised World Series in 1947 reached 3.9 million viewers.

Or when kids like me and my brothers – living in our own world in the Iowa countryside – watched the 1967 All-Star game with fascination. That fascination of America’s grand old game – beamed in living color – has certainly faded.

Kevin Schnepf

Kevin Schnepf is the sports editor for The Forum. He has been working at The Forum since 1986.

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