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Red Sox lose RSN ratings lead

The Boston Red Sox’s six-year reign atop MLB’s local television ratings is about to end, as the team’s local numbers have plummeted from first to fifth this season.

Entering the All-Star break, ratings for Red Sox games on NESN have dropped nearly 36 percent from last year, for a 6.25 average rating.

The last time the Red Sox finished out of the top spot was in 2003, when the Mariners posted an 11.53 rating on FSN Northwest. The Sox averaged a 7.86 rating that year on NESN. This year, Red Sox ratings trail the Cardinals (9.70 on FS Midwest), Twins (7.85 on FS North), Phillies (7.20 on CSN Philadelphia) and Reds (6.52 on FS Ohio).

In addition to a reshuffle at the top of MLB’s ratings grid, there is also an interesting change at the bottom, where the Nationals have climbed out of the local TV cellar for the first time since the team moved to Washington in 2005.

Nats ratings are up 139 percent on MASN and MASN2, and the team’s 1.34 rating so far this season is higher than both the Angels (1.23 on FS West) and A’s (1.23 on CSN California).

Most of the Nats ratings gains can be attributed to the emergence of rookie pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg, whose games are among MASN’s highest rated. When Strasburg pitches, the Nats’ ratings jump to an average of 4.4.

But MASN executives say the increase is fueled by more than just the addition of Strasburg, who joined the team in June. A quick start by the team helped the Nats show significant ratings increases before Strasburg joined the parent club, and MASN executives say the team would have climbed out of last place even without including Strasburg’s games.

In Boston, the declining TV numbers are not the only evidence that suggests Red Sox Nation is more apathetic about this year’s team than in years past. Despite the fact that the team just had its 600th straight sellout at Fenway Park, the lack of the traditional enthusiasm around the local nine this year extends to the team’s radio broadcasts, too. For the first half of the season, Red Sox games on WEEI-AM were down 16.5 percent, to 107,500 listeners. The coveted male 25- to 54-year-old demographic was down 28 percent, posting a 10.2 average. It should be noted that the Celtics’ run in this year’s NBA playoffs required the relocation of 20 Red Sox broadcasts this spring from flagship WEEI-AM to WRKO-AM.

Mike McLaughlin, a 43-year-old cardiologist who grew up and still lives in the Boston area, is a lifelong Red Sox fan. But he has watched fewer games on TV this year and is hearing similar stories from his friends. He cited a lack of star power on the team as one of the reasons there’s less enthusiasm around the team. This year’s players don’t have the same draw as those from previous years’ teams, which included the likes of Manny Ramirez or, even, Jason Bay.

“People expected a bigger splash in the offseason,” McLaughlin said. “There’s a general feeling that the ownership took a pass on this season, and I think you’re seeing fans question why they should invest in it.”

McLaughlin also said the team’s slow start, combined with long playoff runs by the Celtics and Bruins, cut into the Red Sox’s popularity a bit this spring.

Red Sox Nation appears to be more apathetic about
this year’s team than in years past.

Evaluating numbers is all a matter of perspective, though. The Red Sox’s telecasts average 120,000 more households than the Nationals, but the TV ratings story in D.C. is a much rosier one this season.

The Nationals are averaging 31,000 households per telecast, which moved them out of last place in total audience. Just two years ago, Washington finished the 2008 season by averaging just 8,000 households a game, and it was easily the least-viewed team in MLB.

This season, the team’s viewership is outpacing Royals games on FS Kansas City (27,000) and is even with A’s games on CSN California, which also average 31,000 homes.

Yankees games on YES again are the most watched in the league (328,000 homes), followed by their New York neighbor, the Mets, whose games on SNY attract an average of 244,000 homes.

In general, MLB’s national ratings have been flat. Fox’s 1.9 rating is even with last year, though its audience is up 2 percent to 2.845 million homes.

ESPN’s numbers are down slightly, pulling a 1.0/1.123 million home average this year compared with last year’s 1.1/1.260 million. Ratings on ESPN2 are flat with last year: 0.7/852,000 homes.

Turner’s ratings are flat (0.4 U.S. rating), though its audience is down slightly to 466,000 homes.


MLB RADIO BROADCAST LEADERS
Avg. audience size per game broadcast
Rank Team Flagship station(s) Avg. no. of listeners (change)
1 New York Yankees WCBS 441,000 (+6.9%)
2 New York Mets WFAN 368,500 (+33.0%)
3 Chicago Cubs WGN 259,700 (-6.3%)
4 Detroit WXYT/WXYT-FM 193,400 (+21.9%)
5 Los Angeles Angels KLAA/KSPN 166,600 (+90.8%)*
6 Philadelphia WPHT 159,500 (-0.5%)
7 San Francisco KNBR 154,900 (+2.2%)
8 Minnesota KSTP 133,000 (+33.9%)
9 St. Louis KTRS 128,400 (-5.0%)
10 Cincinnati WLW 116,100 (NA)
 
Avg. rating per game broadcast
Rank Team Flagship station(s) Avg. rating, men 25-54 (change)
1 Cincinnati WLW 25.0 (NA)
2 Detroit WXYT/WXYT-FM 21.3 (+19.0%)
3 St. Louis KTRS 19.1 (-4.5%)
4 Minnesota KSTP 17.0 (+21.4%)
5 Atlanta WCNN/WNNX-FM 11.7 (+42.7%)
6 Kansas City KCSP 11.6 (NA)
7 Tampa Bay WDAE 11.1 (+14.4%)
T8 Philadelphia WPHT 10.9 (-25.3%)
T8 Seattle KIRO 10.9 (+16.0%)
10 San Francisco KNBR 10.8 (+2.9%)
Notes: For broadcasts through June 30 this season and last. Stations listed are AM unless otherwise noted.
NA: Not applicable. Comparable information for 2009 was not available.
* Angels-owned KLAA in April began a content-swap agreement with ESPN-owned-and-operated KSPN that brought ESPN Radio programming to KLAA in return for KSPN agreeing to simulcast about 60 Angels games this season. The deal gives the team a much broader reach than what it had with its previous simulcast partner, KFWB.
Source: Arbitron Inc.
 
MLB TEAMS’ RSN Ratings (ranked by avg. rating)
Team RSN Avg. rating (change) Avg. no. of HHs (change)
St. Louis Cardinals FS Midwest 9.70 (+41.6%) 121,197 (+41.6%)
Minnesota Twins FS North 7.85 (+26.4%) 135,966 (+26.5%)
Philadelphia Phillies CSN Philadelphia 7.20 (+16.5%) 212,774 (+16.7%)
Cincinnati Reds FS Ohio 6.52 (+48.9%) 59,897 (+49.4%)
Boston Red Sox NESN 6.25 (-35.8%) 150,636 (-35.8%)
Detroit Tigers FS Detroit 6.23 (-1.9%) 117,761 (-3.8%)
Tampa Bay Rays FS Florida 5.52 (+70.9%) 99,681 (+69.4%)
Milwaukee Brewers FS Wisconsin 5.20 (-26.9%) 46,893 (-27.2%)
Colorado Rockies FSN Rocky Mountain 4.88 (+55.9%) 75,122 (+57.5%)
Seattle Mariners FSN Northwest 4.83 (-15.6%) 88,582 (-14.9%)
San Diego Padres Cox/SD4 4.79 (+14.6%) 51,415 (+15.3%)
New York Yankees YES 4.38 (-5.4%) 328,217 (-4.6%)
Atlanta Braves* SportSouth 3.66 (+16.2%) 87,383 (+17.1%)
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