"Long Gone Summer," the latest installment of ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary series centered on the 1998 home run chase between Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa and St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire, was a ratings flop, attracting few fans despite the three-month long sports hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With labor negotiations putting the 2020 (and possibly 2021) MLB season in doubt, it's fair to wonder if low viewership is a byproduct of declining interest in the sport. Sosa and McGwire were admittedly controversial players. Both used performance-enhancing drugs throughout their careers, sullying their achievements in the eyes of many fans.
However, the viewership numbers for "Long Gone Summer" were staggering, especially with few other sources of sports entertainment available. While "30 for 30" documentaries usually draw large audiences, the "Long Gone Summer" attracted a mere 775,000 viewers.
These numbers perhaps paint a grim picture for the future of baseball. The sport's popularity had already begun to decline among younger demographics, but the labor dispute does not seem to be helping matters. It's entirely possible that fans have simply lost interest.
For comparison's sake, "The Last Dance," ESPN's 10-part documentary series about Michael Jordan's career with the Chicago Bulls, attracted 6.1 million viewers at its premiere, an audience almost eight times larger than that of "Long Gone Summer." Though Michael Jordan is way more of a cultural phenomenon, the 1998 home run chase was one of the most entertaining events in baseball history. How would more baseball fans not want to relive that?
While the labor dispute could ultimately have nothing to do with low viewership for "Long Gone Summer," we can at least surmise the state of baseball isn't doing all that well if the ratings for a highly-anticipated documentary were this bad.