If local baseball TV ratings are so strong, why are World Series, All-Star Game numbers so low?

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center is on local and national TV ratings for baseball. Something doesn’t add up.

From the column:


You’ve heard the familiar storyline: Sports fans are losing interest in baseball. The game moves too slowly, young viewers are tuning out, even old viewers are drifting elsewhere.

Well, as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend.”

Last week, Maury Brown did a piece for Forbes.com on local TV ratings for baseball. It suggests that reports of the game’s demise have been grossly exaggerated.

Brown wrote:

Major League Baseball is king during prime time at the regional level thus far this season for regional sports networks (RSNs) winning the key prime time slot in the US markets that Nielsen Media Company tracks.

The data bolsters the position that baseball continues to be a solid programming choice for networks in the summer when the major networks are in reruns.

According to the information from Nielsen, of the 29 U.S.-based clubs in the league, 12 of them are the #1-rated programming in prime time since the start of the season in their home markets, beating both broadcast and cable competition. These teams include the Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants, and Arizona Diamondbacks.

Mr. Corso, can I have a little help here? I could use another, “Not so fast, my friend.” There are a couple of things to consider in Brown’s post.

Judging baseball’s success in terms of where it rates among prime-time programming doesn’t say as much as you’d think. With so many choices out there for viewers, the ratings for all prime-time shows have been extremely splintered, resulting in a much lower threshold to be No. 1 in a time slot. In many evenings in our house, the most viewed shows are on Netflix.

Also, I would offer that local baseball telecasts, especially for successful teams, have generated strong ratings among other prime-time programming in recent years, given the current TV landscape. I don’t think this is a recent trend.
Brown’s story also doesn’t get into any historical context. Are local baseball ratings higher, lower, flat in 2014? Yes, the game does well in primetime, but are the overall numbers improving at the local level? It still is tied to winning and losing. Last week, in a Chicago Tribune column , I detailed sharp local TV ratings declines for the struggling Cubs and White Sox.

Later in the story, Brown asks a key question:

The numbers bode do bode well for network partners, such as Fox Sports. The question is, why do national ratings seem to lag, while regionally ratings are mostly flourishing?

The issue about lagging national numbers is easy to answer. Again it deals with splintered ratings due to so many national games being available on so many different platforms. We’re a long way from the days of Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek on NBC Game of the Week on Saturday afternoons as the only national game on the menu. Does anyone even know where to find the Fox Saturday game anymore?

The more relevant ratings are for the All-Star Game and the post-season. If baseball is generating so much interest on the local level, it logically would follow that there should be more viewers tuning in to the games on the sport’s biggest stage, right?



And there’s more about the national ratings for baseball. The link to the rest of the column.




5 thoughts on “If local baseball TV ratings are so strong, why are World Series, All-Star Game numbers so low?

  1. If you go back, NBC’s ratings for the Saturday Game of the Week were not that robust until the 1980s, when the contract blacked out competing telecasts–and even then, they didn’t go up as much as NBC would have liked. If you go further back, when ABC finally got a national game of the week in 1965–remember that, until then, major league baseball aired on network television only to minor league cities, to protect local telecasts–their ratings were poor. They were even worse when CBS aired a Yankees telecast with–get ready–Dizzy Dean. So, granting that the games are too long and this is hurting the sport, the history is long here.

  2. I think there are a few reasons for this.

    1. MLB does a terrible job promoting all teams. Fox and ESPN are basically the Yankees / Red Sox national networks…all Yankees, all Red Sox all the time (regardless of if you care about them…) You pointed this out a few weeks ago right here with your blog on “enough of this…”

    2. MLB fans are very provincial, they root for THEIR team, they care about THEIR team. I can appreciate say the greatness of Clayton Kershaw but I’m not going to watch him at the expense of Chris Sale and the White Sox to give you an example.

    3. Your point about fractured ratings is valid. Practically every game is available now on TV, as stated in point #2, I’m not going to watch other teams when I can see the White Sox.

    If MLB really thinks this is an issue they can do the following:

    Black out ALL games except for a weekly national telecast on Fox or ESPN or whatever network they choose. Force fans to watch that game or simply not see any baseball. Sound harsh? Maybe…but once a week isn’t asking a lot to benefit the sport…of course they’d also have to guarantee that all teams would be shown, like ESPN first did when they got the contract back in 1990, they made it a point to show every team on their Sunday night rotation and tried to go to every park to do it…that was before they became the Eastern Sports Programming Network.

  3. Ed:

    One other thing to add, post season numbers are down because when games don’t start until later in the evening then go to midnight or beyond, who can actually watch? I mean, it’s not quantum physics…people have to actually work the next day (well except for Cubs fans…right Lee Elia??)

  4. In addition, I’m turned off by the emphasis on the long ball. Of course, having lived in the midwest, I got to see a lot of Whiteyball!!

  5. I read this article with interest, as reprinted in The Baltimore Sun. I don’t doubt the possibility that some people, maybe an increasing number through time, find baseball boring. However, the facts within the article do not support the premise.

    I believe that the mainstream media, as exemplified by this article, is becoming biased against baseball in general. Quick to declare the sport dying for lack of fan interest and/or TV ratings? I’ve long thought this (about the bias; not the death) and now I have more proof.

    Forbes Magazine and my hometown rag both have run stories about how regional network TV ratings are up this year, across many cities in the Midwest and places like here in Baltimore where we finally have a contending team after years in the desert. You would think that an article about an uptick in television ratings would be a positive, no?

    Think again. The author incongruously and indefensibly spun this article into an indefensible, pejorative yarn about how baseball is dying because the game moves to slowly and is losing fan interest as a consequence. Perhaps its losing his interest, but the actual data presented in the article points in the exact opposite direction: baseball is increasing in popularity as measured by TV viewership in many cities.

    Not one iota of facts are presented to support the article’s premise:than fan boredom is driving ratings down. You would think the Neilsen ratings people would see a downward time trend in viewership during the course of an event, separate and apart from such a trend that may exist because (say) east coast people get tired and go to bed. A contrast between a nighttime nationally televised baseball game and (say) Monday Night Football, with data plotted against the hour of the day, would provide such facts. Those data would be easy for a media person or a professional reporter to get, too.

    I suppose fact-supported objectivity is too much to ask. Figures can lie and liars can figure. And one wonders why I discontinued my paid subscription to The Baltimore Sun years ago. Mr. Sherman, I hope you accept these comments in the constructive manner intended. I look forward to your publication of a data-supported rebuttal.

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