PEORIA, Ariz. – Given the limited number of seats available due to reduced capacity for COVID-19 safety protocols, and the surge of tickets purchased when they were initially put on sale, the 1,744 spectators lucky enough to be in attendance for the Cactus League opener Sunday between the two “natural rivals” occupying the Peoria Sports Complex – the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres – were happy and lucky just to be watching live baseball.
For those who remained for all nine innings on a slightly chilly and windswept afternoon, they were rewarded with an entertaining finish.
And for the Mariners’ fans in attendance, well, they got to see a hopeful glimpse of future highlights when Julio Rodriguez stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the game tied at 4. The 19-year-old, who is considered to be either the No. 1 or No. 2 prospect in the organization, calmly smacked a first-pitch slider into center field, scoring Jarred Kelenic, who also is considered the No. 1 or No. 2 prospect in the organization.
The familiar sound of fans standing and cheering loudly returned, but the crowd was small enough that you could hear Mariners’ broadcaster Rick Rizzs yelling on the play. As Rodriguez greeted his teammates, the spread-out fans gave him a standing ovation. Sure it was only a spring training game, but they got to see something fun and exciting.
But for the many Mariners fans back in the Puget Sound and spread around the country, well, they didn’t get to see any of it. Because the game was not televised by any outlet, they had to wait until video of Rodriguez’s single, which was provided by the team, hit social media.
That did not go over well with diehard Mariners fans, who were ready to focus on actual baseball after a tumultuous week for the organization.
However, the Cactus League home opener, which is usually televised, wasn’t one of the eight spring training games that ROOT Sports had scheduled to broadcast this season.
What was on ROOT Sports at the time? Well, there was a Mariners game … from 2001. After the basketball game between Clemson and Miami, which was live, ended, ROOT aired a replay of a game between the Mariners and Rangers from July 2, 2001.
If people were to turn on ROOT on Tuesday when Yusei Kikuchi is about to take the mound in Peoria to face the Cleveland Indians at 12:10 p.m. Pacific time, they will find a replay of a tennis match between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
Fans will only be able to listen to a live radio broadcast of the game Tuesday on the MLB app or mariners.com because ESPN 710-AM has chosen to air the broadcast on delay at 7 p.m.
The first chance to see the team on television will be the game Wednesday against the Cubs in Mesa, which will air on ESPN.
Obviously, the vocal and often-times reactionary contingent of fans on social media for any team isn’t representative of the fan base as a whole. But there is consternation beyond that group to wonder why that game or more games aren’t being televised by a network where the Mariners are the controlling shareholder.
Traditionally, Seattle has drawn steady crowds to its games in Peoria. In 2019, the Mariners drew 93,937 fans in 14 games for an average 6,709 per game. They averaged more than 7,300 in 2018 and 2017.
But so many fans who leave the cold and gray of the Pacific Northwest for the sun of Arizona every year, couldn’t or wouldn’t think of making the trip in 2021 for a variety of reasons. It would seem like televising more games would be a logical response.
However, the eight games televised this spring are the fewest since the 2014 spring training – the Mariners’ first as the majority owners of ROOT Sports. That spring, ROOT televised seven games and one of them was on a delay.
In recent years, ROOT basically has televised almost every “home” game played in Peoria and also a couple of simulcasts with ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain for road games against the Rockies at Salt River Field.
A quick glance at past years:
- 2021 — 8 games
- 2020 – 10 games
- 2019 — 14 games with Seattle leaving spring training early for Japan
- 2018 – 16 games
- 2017 – 16 games
- 2016 – 16 games
- 2015 – 16 games
- 2014 – 7 games
- 2013 – 6 games
- 2012 – 8 games
Sources indicated that the Mariners had planned to televise 10 games based on the previous schedule, but then MLB made a late change to the schedule. Also, ROOT Sports was in the detailed process of renovating and building on to their studio and control room, which was a minor hindrance to the process, because Dave Sims and Aaron Goldsmith will call games from there.
The not-so-dirty secret of televising spring training games is that they don’t draw many viewers, which in turn doesn’t generate much in revenue.
The bulk of the games are played during the week and in the afternoon when most people are working, or at least supposed to be working.
When the Dodgers reduced their spring training telecasts on SportsNet LA significantly going into 2016, going from 31 games in 2015 down to 16 games in 2016 and 2017, most of them being on either the weekend or at night, a representative of the parent company, Time Warner Cable, was asked by the Los Angeles Times if it was a cost-cutting measure.
“Not at all,” he said. “It’s a reaction based on viewership for weekday afternoon games.”
Realistically, while it would be a three-hour commercial about the Mariners and their team, some of the weekday broadcasts would be losers from a financial standpoint. But given the current climate surrounding the Mariners, fans don’t want to hear about costs, financial losses or any sort of rationalization.
MLB sources said ROOT Sports is working to get the live television feeds from other networks for a handful of road games with the hope of using them with Sims or Goldsmith calling the the games from Bellevue.
But what about other teams’ spring training television schedules, surely they are showing more games than the Mariners?
Well, yes and no.
The aforementioned Dodgers, who are fresh off a World Series title, will have all 31 spring training games, including exhibition games against the Angels in Los Angeles, televised on SportsNet LA.
The Angels also will have all 31 of their Cactus League games televised on Fox Sports West or Prime Ticket. MLB sources said that when the Angels negotiated their television rights deal going into the 2012 seasons, owner Arte Moreno was adamant that it included a guarantee to televise every spring training game home or away. The thinking was that it was good for fans in every way. They would know a game is always available. They could see minor-league players that they wouldn’t otherwise see during the season. Also it might encourage fans to make the six-hour drive from Los Angeles to the Phoenix valley to see the team in person.
But of the 30 teams in baseball, the Los Angeles teams are the only ones to have all their spring training games televised.
The remainder of the American League West might have less than the Mariners. Neither the A’s nor Astros have announced their broadcast schedules yet. Oakland’s two main networks – NBC Sports California or NBC Sports San Francisco – are shared with the Giants so it’s being finalized. The Astros have said some of their home games will be televised on AT&T Sports Houston, but hasn’t released a schedule. The Rangers will have six games televised on Fox Sports Southwest, but two of those broadcasts will be simulcast from the opposing team’s broadcast.
In a bit of surprise, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have 14 games televised by its network, AT&T Sports, which is the most ever for the team. The Cubs will have 13 games televised on Marquee Sports. The Twins and Rays each also will have 13 games on their respective networks. But three of those games will be shared simulcasts of the other team’s home broadcast.
The Yankees, who own YES Network, will have 12 home broadcasts. The Cardinals, Brewers, Phillies also will have 12.
At the low end, the Reds will have only four games televised on Fox Sports Ohio, while Cleveland and Detroit will have five games televised on their networks. The Marlins, Braves, Orioles and Nationals have yet to finalize their schedules.