Chicago baseball fans need to take two bites of Apple on Friday night
Never mind the company’s incorrect use of the term “doubleheader.” It chose the Cubs’ and the White Sox’ games for its “Friday Night Baseball” package, and those broadcasts haven’t sat well with viewers.
We know Apple is new to broadcasting baseball, but surely someone at the company knows the definition of “doubleheader.”
If not, I’d direct employees to consult my good friend Merriam-Webster, who defines doubleheader as “two games, contests or events held consecutively on the same program.”
Key word: consecutively, as in one after the other.
So it’s puzzling that Apple TV+’s “Friday Night Baseball,” initially billed as “a weekly doubleheader,” would air games scheduled to start one hour apart. That’s the case this week when the Cubs visit the Phillies at
6 p.m. and the White Sox host the Guardians at 7 p.m.
Wait a minute . . . the Cubs and the Sox are on Apple TV+ on the same night?
Talk about burying the lead.
Yes, for the first time in its first year of airing MLB games, the streaming service chose to inconvenience fans of two teams in one city. Neither New York nor Los Angeles has had the pleasure of watching both of its teams streamed on Apple on the same night, though the state of Texas suffered the ignominy July 1, when the Rangers aired at 6 and the Astros at 7 in a, you know, doubleheader.
But here we are, and we probably should feel fortunate that the broadcasts aren’t locked behind a paywall (though they might be one day). Anyone with an internet connection can watch. This isn’t the first time the Cubs and Sox have appeared on Apple, so you’re aware that the broadcasts have, to put it politely, left something to be desired. That is, aside from the picture quality, which is pristine.
The crew for Cubs-Phillies will be play-by-play voice Melanie Newman, analyst Chris Young and former Sun-Times Cubs reporter Russell Dorsey, who doubles as Bally Sports’ MLB insider. The Guardians-Sox crew will be play-by-play voice Stephen Nelson — who auditioned for the Blackhawks’ TV job — analyst Hunter Pence, reporter Heidi Watney and commentator (?) Katie Nolan.
The broadcast teams have been under fire since opening night. They sounded like nothing viewers had heard before, and not in a good way. Conversations were all over the map, and many of them had nothing to do with the game. Baseball fans being who they are, very little of it sat well.
The criticism has calmed, but whether that’s because of improved performance or less viewership is unknown. The broadcasters have gotten better with more repetition and comfort with each other. Newman and Nelson are not new to their jobs, but the analysts are, and Nolan is new to all of it.
It’s still a work in progress, but Apple is under no obligation to see it through. According to Forbes, Apple’s deal with MLB is for
$85 million annually over seven years, though it can get out of the deal after the first or second year.
It’s as though Apple is using MLB as a trial run for sports broadcasting. The company is trying to become a major player in the industry, locking up MLS games for 10 years starting next season and bidding for the NFL Sunday Ticket, the platform for out-of-market games. DirecTV’s exclusive deal expires after this season. Apple is competing against Amazon and ESPN parent Disney. An outcome is expected this fall.
It all points to streaming’s continued intrusion into sports and its disruption of fans’ habits. In just the last 15 months, three of the four major sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NHL) have given streaming services exclusive rights to games. What do you think the NBA is going to do in its next media-rights deal? The current one expires after the 2024-25 season.
This was all bound to happen. We just didn’t expect it to happen so fast. And you should expect more.
The second game of the Sox’ doubleheader against the Guardians at 6:15 p.m. Saturday will air on Fox-32. Perhaps to the dismay of Clevelanders, Sox radio voice Len Kasper and Sox World Series-winning catcher A.J. Pierzynski will call it. Next Saturday, Fox originally was scheduled to air the Athletics-Sox game but dropped it.
u The Cubs-Phillies game Sunday will air at 11 a.m. on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service. Jason Benetti will call the action with an analyst from each team, Marquee Sports Network studio analyst Ryan Sweeney and NBC Sports Philadelphia game analyst John Kruk.
u The MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday night averaged 7.51 million viewers on Fox, making it the least-watched game on record, according to Sports Media Watch. The previous low was 8.14 million in 2019. Fox, however, touted it as the most watched All-Star Game in sports.
u MLB Network will air the National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony for the Class of 2022, which includes Sox great Minnie Miñoso, at 10 a.m. Sunday.