Real story about 2013 World Series ratings: Think Mendoza Line for historical lows

Please fellow colleagues,  stop writing that the World Series was a huge success for Fox and Major League Baseball.

The reports talked about how ratings were up 17 percent from 2012 for the Boston-St. Louis series. Fox called it, “A Grand Slam” in a press release, and others ran with it, as if to say all is well with the game.

Well, here is the real story.

Yes, the final rating of 8.9 was up 17 percent from the 7.6 in San Francisco’s sweep over Detroit in 2012. But that series was an all-time low.

The ratings had nowhere to go but up. Not to pick on my old White Sox pal Adam Dunn, but proclaiming a 17-percent ratings increase is much like boasting about him raising his average 45 points from 2011 to 2012. Of course, he went from a horrific .159 to a bit less horrific .204.

Indeed, the recent ratings suggests, like Dunn, baseball is treading along the Mendoza Line.

Baseball now has failed to break double-digit ratings in three of the last four World Series, and it barely got there with a 10 for St. Louis’ victory in seven games over Texas in 2011.

If you’re looking for a recent comparison, go to the Yankees’ six-game triumph over Philadelphia in 2009. That series did an 11.9 rating. The 2013 Series was down 26 percent compared to that number.

And don’t give me that it was the Yankees. The Red Sox also have a massive national appeal. Heck, when they swept Colorado in 2007, the series still did a 10.6 rating; it was a huge 15.8 for their curse-breaking victory over St. Louis in 2004.

Now that 15.8, if not 10.6, seems like a pipe dream. Consider that a compelling six-gamer in 2013 featuring two of baseball’s most storied franchises failed to even pull a 9 rating. It was the fourth-lowest rating of all time.

Privately, I bet Fox and MLB executives had to be disappointed that this series didn’t do at least a 10 rating. Back in the mid-2000s, the number probably would have been closer to 15.

As I wrote earlier in the week, the erosion in the World Series ratings is a recent trend that really began in the mid-2000s. Viewers began to tune out the Fall Classic, and many of them haven’t come back.

How bad has it gotten? Take a look at this passage from Sports Media Watch:

For the fifth time in six years, the World Series was outdrawn by the NBA Finals. The Heat/Spurs series averaged a 9.7 rating and 16.2 million viewers through six games, and a 10.5 and 17.7 million for the full seven. The NBA Finals also averaged a 7.1 rating among adults 18-49.

Keep in mind, the NBA Finals are in June, when fewer people are watching TV. Long gone are the days when the NBA Finals barely registered compared to the World Series. Now it is somewhat of a benchmark.

Indeed, the bar has been lowered significantly when people are celebrating an 8.9 rating for a compelling World Series. That’s the real story here, colleagues.





11 thoughts on “Real story about 2013 World Series ratings: Think Mendoza Line for historical lows

  1. The downward trend in World Series viewership seems indisputable, but what is the effect? We know the numbers and they’re continually reported – so how does the trend impact the business? MLB is one year into an 8-year rights agreement with Fox/TBS/ESPN that pays $12 billion and is double the previous fee paid. That contract was done last year in the midst of the notable viewership decline so the rights payers don’t seem too concerned about the numbers (not good but apparently good enough?). It should be noted that the billion dollar rights fees paid by networks for MLB and NFL are money losers for the networks but still valuable properties for programming and cross-promotion (which enables them to make up the loss on rights fees paid). Unless or until the rights payers say they’re losing big money because of lower viewership- then business is apparently good. What stands as significant are the NEXT rights negotiations some 6-7 years down the road.

    • It seems to me you can’t extrapolate the trend of declining viewership and expanding contracts out forever. Something’s got to break at some point. Eventually, you can’t be a ‘loss leader’ anymore.

  2. Good article. Chris Russo was on yesterday citing the fact that, since, attendance is at a “all time high” MLB is more popular than ever. Steve Torre countered with the fact that the under 18 demographic for the WS was 4% but Chris was having none of it. Dino Costa has put forth a simple plan that might revive MLB popularity simply by putting the WS out of competition with the NFL season just as it is shaping up, and the the start of the NBA and NHL seasons: Shorten the MLB season so that the playoffs begin at the beginning of September. By scheduling more double headers this can probably be accomplished or just eliminate 8 games. Of course the owners won’t go for it because, in the short run, it decreases their ballpark revenues but in the long run, the potential for revived popularity may make it worth it. Old men like me are their prime demographic now and, like WWII vets, old men like me will soon be gone.

    • Chris Russo is now employed by MLB Network. Shill-a-riffic! No wonder why he pushed the MLB attendance agenda. Guess he didn’t see any Mets games last season, where the only green was the sight of empty seats masquerading as fans.

      • Yeah, the disturbing thing is that more and more people are going to the parks, but they seem to care less and less about what they’re watching.

      • I didn’t know that about Russo. Thanks! I was in the car last Spring when he was interviewing Selig and the popularity/demographic issue was never raised. It makes you wonder where an objective source of news and commentary is these days.

  3. Ed:

    Valid points. But part of that is what you get when it’s Halloween and they are still playing baseball. Baseball is a summer / early fall game…not to be played in November.

    MLB needs to either cut back on the regular season to 140 or 154 games or they need to cut down the number of playoff teams or playoff series or playoff games.

    It’s totally completely insane to be playing baseball in outdoor stadiums in late October (as it is to be playing regular season games in freezing weather in late March / earely April)

    In the quest for the almight buck, MLB has forgotten about the folks who actually pay the way for this operation…the fans.

  4. What MLB and Fox should do which may help is start the games at 7:05. Right now people are tuning out of the World Series because they run way too long. These 8:07 and 8:37 starts are tuning kids out, which is the future of the World Series.
    Of course Fox wants to be in prime time not only on the east coast but also the west coast but the reality is that the west coast is only 15% of their audience. So they are screwing around with the World Series franchise for 15% of the audience.
    Switch the start to a better time that the working stiff will watch and try to get more kids to watch it.

  5. It wasn’t that long ago (before Jordan, naturally) that the NBA Finals were on tape-delay in Chicago. If baseball’s ratings get much lower, it will be hard for networks to justify (a) bumping their prime-time lineups for games and (b) paying expensive rights fees for the “privilege.”

  6. I think the problem is simple: the game is slow. Some people blame this on changes in younger generations, but I think the change is baseball itself. It takes 30 or 45 minutes longer to play the same game as it did in the 60s.

  7. Are TV ratings the single metric in determining whether younger people are interested in baseball going forward, whether MLB has a healthy future? Or now that we are in different times, and technology is so vast, are different metrics (social media, most prominently) needed to be added to the equation?

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