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More kids watch prime time than afternoon baseball? It’s true
Published October 25, 2010
It’s finally time to put to bed the tired complaint that MLB playoff games start too late.
Early start times would help me catch up on my sleep each fall, but the myth that they attract more kids is just that — a myth. After more than three decades of prime-time World Series matchups, I think it’s safe to say that baseball hasn’t lost that generation of kids that years of late start times were supposed to lose.
In fact, you could make an argument that prime-time baseball is more kid-friendly than afternoon baseball.
Here’s a stat that blew me away: pre-kindergartners (kids between the ages of 2 and 5) watch more TV during prime time than they do in the afternoon.
A ratings breakdown of the four division series on TBS earlier this month proves that point. MLB gave each of the divisional series games its own television window, which made it easier to compare early start times with later ones. The results show that baseball reaches more kids during prime time than at any other point during the day.
The 2-11 demo pulled a 0.50 rating during prime time (7:30 to 11 p.m. ET), compared with a 0.15 rating in the early afternoon (1 to 4 p.m. ET).
Those numbers held up across every younger demographic: pre-schoolers, grammar schoolers and high schoolers, who typically are in class during the early weekday games and not watching. But even ratings for the late-afternoon games are lower than they are in prime time for the younger demos.
Across all demos, virtually nobody is watching the early afternoon games. This year, the three early afternoon games (two 1 p.m. starts and one 2:30 p.m. start) were the lowest-rated, by far, during the divisional series, averaging a 1.6 rating.
Compare that with the five late-afternoon games (start times between 4:30 and 6 p.m.), which averaged a 2.8 rating, and the seven prime-time games (start times between 8 and 9:50 p.m.), which averaged a 3.3 rating.
More than three times as many kids age 6-11 (basically from 1st to 6th grade) watched prime-time games this year (0.55 rating) compared with early afternoon ones (0.15 rating). Plus, nearly three times as many teenagers (ages 12-17) watched the prime-time games (0.76 rating) as they did the early afternoon games (0.26).
We shouldn’t be surprised by these numbers. The kids, obviously, are in school during the week and can’t watch early afternoon games. But these numbers should silence critics who believe weekday playoff games are a good way to cultivate a young fan base.
I used to be one of those complainers. My issue wasn’t as much with bringing back afternoon baseball as it was with games that end past midnight on the East Coast. Late-night baseball still bugs me, but other than my bleary eyes every fall, I don’t have any evidence to suggest that these games are hurting the sport’s TV ratings.
I called Mike Mulvihill at Fox Sports to see if this year’s numbers are following the same trend line. Fox has carried MLB since 1996, and Mulvihill, vice president of sports programming and research, has seen all the fluctuations associated with the sport’s ratings. He said the numbers are in line with what he’s seen in previous years.
“It’s in keeping with what we’ve seen on our air for as long as we’ve been involved in baseball,” he said.
Rather than worry so much about start times and afternoon baseball, Mulvihill said he’s more concerned about when the games end. If a game is running long and is only in the 6th inning at 11 p.m. ET, for example, the audience drops off significantly.
The best ratings — for both kids and adults — occur when baseball playoff games end around 11:30, Mulvihill said. In 2009, Fox and MLB moved up the start times of World Series games by a half-hour, to 7:57 p.m. ET. This year, they’re starting the Saturday night World Series game at 6:57 p.m.
Still, I have a hard time believing the numbers, particularly with the younger demos. That’s not the way my kids watch television, or the kids of any friend, for that matter. The only times my kids are allowed to watch playoff games during the week is in the late afternoon.
Surely, others must have similar experiences.
But Mulvihill said my view is complicated by the fact that I live on the East Coast. So do most of the other chronic complainers about baseball start times. 11:30 p.m. on the East Coast isn’t 11:30 p.m. everywhere, and when the networks schedule games in the afternoon, nobody’s watching.
Plus, Mulvihill said, televised baseball is not the best way for the sport to latch onto young fans. He said Fox has participated in research and focus groups that show kids are more likely to become baseball fans if they play the game and attend major league games.
“We are, at best, a distant third to those two activities,” Mulvihill said. “Over the years, there’s been so much criticism leveled at us and other networks that have had the postseason for starting games in prime time. What we’re increasingly coming to understand is that television is a relatively small factor in turning kids onto the game.”
John Ourand can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.
YOUTH RATINGS FOR 2010 DIVISION SERIES COVERAGE ON TBS