Ratings Are Back, Will They Stay
After a disappointing past few years with regards to TV ratings, are the numbers from the first month of the season a good sign for baseball?
Written by Jake Elman
It’s no secret that baseball’s been in a bit of a dry spell with regards to buzz and excitement in recent years. It wasn’t long ago that I wrote about how new commissioner Rob Manfred should try getting the youth back into baseball, and as it stands right now, more and more hype may be starting to come back to the game. It’s not perfect — yet — but it seems like Major League Baseball is starting to get the attention again. People like the pace of play rules, they like that games aren’t taking as long, and they like that small-market teams like the Astros and Twins have been playing extremely well as of late.
With excitement and hype comes the desire to watch these games, and with that desire means better TV ratings. You’d think that despite baseball slowly losing interest over the past few year that the big time networks — Fox and ESPN — would still have decent MLB ratings, right? Well…not really, as they’ve in fact been in a decline.
As Business Journalism pointed out in an article published last month, this decline isn’t something that just suddenly happened one day; rather, there’s been a slow — but steady — decrease in ratings since 2001, as the following pictures will demonstrate.
I’ve pointed this out before, but part of that may be because we see the same teams — New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals — on it seemingly every single week, and part of it might also be that there’s more entertaining things on. But we were at a point last year where only one million viewers tuned into a Sunday Night game during the pennant race, featuring the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers.
But, this season has seen baseball ratings increase, and in a big way. First, let’s look at Opening Day. According to a press release put out last month, ESPN’s 2015 Major League Baseball season-opening viewership went up 48 percent from 2014, those stats coming via Nielsen. Through five games – MLB Opening Night (Cardinals-Cubs) and a MLB Opening Day quadruple-header (that included the return of Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez from suspension) – ESPN averaged 1,370,000 viewers compared to 926,000 in 2014. ESPN also went up 50 percent in U.S. household (0.9 versus 0.6) compared to last year.
That Opening Night game, the Cardinals-Cubs one that ended in a victory for the Redbirds, that had 3,354,000 viewers, which is way up (47 percent, in fact) from 2014’s 2,279,000 viewers for 2014’s Dodgers-Padres opening game. Granted, that game was going up against the season finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead, a series that beat the NFL and Sunday Night Football five out of eight times this past season, so that’s understandable. That particular episode of The Walking Dead, titled ‘A’, did 15.67 million viewers, so ESPN shouldn’t take any offense.
But, back to baseball and those stats from the press release. Though the amount of views are definitely important, just look at the demographics and the improvements across the board there. We’re talking about 17 percent in the male 18-34 demographic (0.7 versus 0.6); 17 percent in males 18-49 (0.7 versus 0.6); 40 percent in M25-54 (0.7 versus 0.5); 67 percent in P18-34 (0.5 versus 0.3); 67 percent in P18-49 (0.5 versus 0.3); and 67 percent in P25-54 (0.5 versus 0.3). In short, younger people took time out of their Monday to not watch Netflix, but instead watch a baseball game.
Fox Sports also has done very well in the first month of baseball, as Awful Announcing reported earlier this week. After a very poor 2014 with regards to ratings, things look to be going in the upwards direction, with the average viewership for Major League Baseball on Fox rising by 26 percent over the first three Saturdays of the season, which was good for an average of 597,000 viewers per game.
If I’m Fox Sports, I’m also taking pride in the fact that a game between the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers did 817,000 viewers in an exclusive window. Now, that may sound weird that I’d be suggesting that it’s something to be proud of, but Fox Sports nearly did a million viewers in a game between two, non-major market teams. When you think of teams that would do 817,000 viewers on a Fox game, you’d think it’d be something like Yankees-Red Sox or Cardinals-Cubs, but Indians-Tigers.
Oh, and they happened to do more views than the game that followed it, Mets-Yankees that saw Matt Harvey pitch for the Metropolitans; that game did a still-good 647,000 viewers, which is still nearly 200,000 less than the Indians-Tigers game.
Oh, and it’s not just the big Fox Sports that’s doing well with regards to ratings. In fact, eight Fox Regional Sports Networks (think of Fox Sports Detroit, for example) rank either first or second in their local market in primetime ratings, those teams being the Indians, Tigers, Royals, Cardinals, Padres, Diamondbacks, Reds, and Rays. The Royals, most notably, are up a staggering 129% on Fox Sports Kansas City after making the World Series in 2014.
Now, are these ratings a fluke? Maybe, and let’s not forget that this was just for the first month of the season. But, this is progress, definite progress that I’m sure is exactly what Rob Manfred was hoping for when he took over as commissioner. For so long, Manfred has been talking about his desire to get people back into baseball, and if the ratings are anything to go off, then this is a great start.
Joe Lucia of Awful Announcing put it best: any positive signs are a good thing.
Do you think that these increased ratings are here to stay, or are they just a fluke? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman