St Louis: Home of the Best Fans in Baseball
St Louis: Baseball Heaven
St Louis: Thank God baseball is back.
While baseball is one of the three major American sports and is of course, important all across the country, baseball has a particular resonance in St Louis and in the surrounding area. The connection that Cardinal fans, the city, and the team have is one of the most special in baseball. To go even further, many have even argued that St Louis Cardinals are the best fans in baseball and that for a small market team, they punch above far their weight. Do they? If so, why?
Baseball is life in St Louis. Sure they had the Rams NFL team for a couple of decades, and everyone loves the NHL Blues hockey team, but St Louis is really a baseball town. It seeps into everything in ways you don’t really realise until you go somewhere else. When the Yankees are at home, there will be a million shows on Broadway; when the Dodgers are at home, so might be the Lakers. But in St Louis, anywhere you go between April and October, you can hear the sound of the Cardinals in the background. It’s on every day in every bar; you can hear it on the roads through car radios in open windows. Everything in St Louis is connected to baseball in the summer – even the weather. One of their main traditions is watching someone take the thermometer out to the mound to show how obscenely hot it is down there.
However, it’s not just within St Louis city limits where the Cardinal organisation has taken root in people’s lives. They have permeated their way into the lives of many across Missouri and the surrounding states. So, where does this connection come from, and why is it so strong? Historically people would listen to baseball games on the radio and despite being able to actually watch baseball on a staggering array of devices, listening to baseball on the radio is still hugely popular. This is similar to the relationship that a lot of Brits have with Test Match Special in the UK. There is something wonderfully familiar about hearing the same dulcet tones discuss, well, nonsense during a slow afternoon of cricket. Also, as baseball has such a long season and so many games, people get attached to their local team’s announcer, whose voice fills their home summer after summer. This makes sense when you think about it; people listen to the same person’s voice for 162 days of the year; it becomes part of your family. In St Louis, the radio mantel falls to the Buck family. Dad, Jack Buck, was the long-time voice of Cardinals radio in the 1950s and 1960s until his son Joe Buck took over. The sound of a Cardinals game playing through a crackly radio reminds us that during the summertime, the living is easy.
St Louis is surrounded by rural communities in Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and Kansas who can listen to Cardinal games on KMOX radio and on local television. This provides the Cardinals with a network of potential fans that spans across multiple states. While other teams that are geographically closer together may have to compete for fans, the Cardinals have uncontested access to hundreds of miles of potential fans. To provide some context and if you wanted to choose a different team to support, the other two closest cities are Chicago (five-hour drive north) and Kansas City (four and a half hours west). Once you go further, you are looking at Denver (14 hours drive away), Dallas (10 hours drive away) and Cincinnati (six-hour drive away).
Even though local radio is still popular, the Cardinals also seem to have a higher than expected pull on national television as well. Surprisingly, they are consistently and traditionally one of the most-watched teams in baseball. Across MLB, the Cardinals were the second most-watched team for local television ratings in 2021, which puts them in the group of the four most-watched teams in the league for the 22nd straight season. Not only can the Cardinals pull in big ratings on local TV, but they can also pull in big numbers on national broadcasts as well. One example of this (from Sports Media Watch) was on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball when the Cardinals-Cubs game managed to pull in 1.53 million viewers (0.9 rating). This was a 17% increase upon a Cubs-Nationals game (1.31 million viewers) in a similar time slot in 2019. Also, earlier in the season, 1.56 million people tuned to watch another Sunday night baseball contest with the Cubs on13 June (also SMW). The postseason games also attract viewers, with the wild card game against the Dodgers being the most-watched broadcast of the Saturday night (which is a big win for small station TBS). It brought in an average of 6.67 million viewers, which is their second-highest ever audience for a wild card game.
Not only is baseball a part of daily life in St Louis, but it also has a tremendous financial effect on the city and contributes directly to the people who live and work in the city. The potential earlier this year of cancelling baseball games would have been incredibly detrimental to the budget of the city and local businesses. Since 2005 the St Louis Cardinals organisation has invested over $750 million dollars in construction projects around downtown St Louis, and the organisation has paid over $473 million in sales, income, real estate and other taxes to the City and State from 2006 through 2020 according to the Busch Stadium Financing Report on mlb.com. The report goes on to further advise that “the estimated direct and indirect economic impact of the Cardinals’ 16 regular seasons since 2006 totals over $4.5 billion in output for the St. Louis region, with out-of-town visitors constituting approximately 40% of annual fan attendance.”
To give a more specific example, in 2011, when the Cardinals unexpectedly made (and ultimately won) the World Series, the financial impact was directly felt by the City of St Louis and impacted the lives of St Louisians. The city itself was going through tough times financially, and the additional revenue that just the World Series brought to the city meant that the Mayor was able to cancel forced unpaid leave for over 2700 city workers. People were literally receiving paychecks and going back to work because of their baseball team.
Baseball is loved by St Louisians, and in a way, the St Louis Cardinals love the city back too. Whether or not you really do think that Cardinal Nation is the best in baseball, at least we can all agree – thank god baseball is back.
Jennifer Annely is the St Louis Cardinals correspondent for Bat Flips & Nerds. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferBarnes8