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.
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.