SBJ/July 14-20, 2014/Media

On a new RSN, Dodgers see TV numbers dive

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The Los Angeles Dodgers, one of sports’ marquee franchises, this season are posting their lowest RSN ratings ever, averaging a 0.74 local rating and 40,000 homes in the country’s second-biggest media market, according to viewership figures through the first week of July.

Despite on-field success, things are looking down for the Dodgers on TV.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

Not only are the team’s SportsNet LA regional ratings and viewership figures down 70 percent from last year’s Dodgers games, which were carried on the Fox Sports-owned Prime Ticket, but it’s the team’s poorest TV performance since at least the mid-1990s, when Prime Ticket started adding more Dodgers games to its schedule.

Perhaps even more concerning to the team: This season’s numbers fall well below those of the Dodgers’ cross-town rival, the Los Angeles Angels. Angels games on FS West have doubled the Dodgers’ viewership so far this season, averaging 80,000 homes. Viewership for the Dodgers, a team that has traditionally dominated sports fans’ discussions in Southern California and has been near first place for much of this season, compares more closely to franchises in Oakland and Denver than the franchises in New York.

The reason for the ratings drop-off comes down to one word: distribution. Since its launch earlier this spring, SportsNet LA has been hampered by distribution problems and is available to just 30 percent of the market. Time Warner Cable is the only distributor that has agreed to carry SportsNet LA. 

Time Warner Cable has a business relationship with the channel, overseeing all sales and distribution.

Some of the area’s biggest distributors, including DirecTV and Dish Network, do not appear to be close to reaching an agreement to carry the channel, putting the team on the defensive all season.

A similar scenario is playing out in Houston, another market where a local team launched its own regional sports network. The Astros are averaging just 9,000 homes per game on CSN Houston, by far MLB’s smallest audience this season. Other than Comcast, which is a part-owner in the RSN, no major Houston-area distributor has agreed to carry CSN Houston.

Meanwhile, another team slowly is recovering from a distribution challenge. After a prolonged dispute, San Diego’s dominant cable system, Time Warner Cable, reached a deal to carry FS San Diego earlier this year. Viewership for Padres games remains among the league’s lowest, at an average of 32,000 homes per game, but it’s up 10 percent from last season.

SportsBusiness Journal reviewed data from all 29 U.S.-based MLB teams; ratings for the Toronto Blue Jays were not available. Overall, 11 of the clubs showed local ratings increases from midseason last year; 18 showed decreases, which is higher than normal.

Many factors go into a team’s TV ratings performance, from the quality of play and the quality of competition to the quality of start times. One potential factor this season could come from MLB’s new national TV deals with ESPN, Fox Sports and Turner Sports. Those deals allow the national broadcasters to carry more games “side-by-side” with the RSNs, which may account for some of the ratings decreases. Last Wednesday, for example, ESPN, Root Sports Pittsburgh and FS Midwest all carried a Pirates-Cardinals game. In previous years, ESPN would have had to black out that game in the Pittsburgh and St. Louis markets.

The four teams that ended 2013 with highest local TV ratings for last season — the Tigers, Cardinals, Pirates and Reds — are atop MLB’s local ratings chart at the midway point this season. The 2013 world champion Boston Red Sox had MLB’s fifth-best rating last season, but the team has played poorly this year, was in last place as of last week and has seen ratings drop 23 percent so far this season.

One of the best story lines to date features the NL Central, where four of the division’s teams (Cardinals, Pirates, Reds and Brewers) rank among the league’s top five in local ratings. Detroit ranks first among all MLB clubs, averaging a 7.52 rating on FS Detroit.

Another good-news story is in Miami, where Marlins games on FS Florida have posted MLB’s biggest ratings increase (up 47 percent) even though the team’s win-loss record currently is hovering around .500.

The New York Yankees also are posting big TV numbers in Derek Jeter’s final season. The team’s 3.05 rating (228,000 homes) is up 22 percent from last year.


MLB TEAMS’ MIDSEASON RSN RATINGS

AVERAGE AUDIENCE

TEAM RSN AVG. NO. OF HHS (CHANGE*)
TOP 5
New York Yankees YES 228,000 (+43,000)
Detroit Tigers FS Detroit 140,000 (-27,000)
New York Mets SportsNet New York 138,000 (+3,000)
Boston Red Sox NESN 128,000 (-35,000)
San Francisco Giants CSN Bay Area 104,000 (-9,000)
BOTTOM 5
Los Angeles Dodgers SportsNet LA 40,000 (-88,000)
Oakland A's CSN California 33,000 (+4,000)
San Diego Padres FS San Diego 32,000 (-3,000)
Miami Marlins FS Florida 27,000 (+9,000)
Houston Astros CSN Houston 9,000 (-1,000)

AUDIENCE CHANGE

TEAM RSN CHANGE* (AVG. NO OF HHS, 2014)
TOP 5
New York Yankees YES +43,000 (228,000)
Milwaukee Brewers FS Wisconsin +14,000 (54,000)
Los Angeles Angels FS West +11,000 (80,000)
Cleveland Indians SportsTime Ohio +9,000 (86,000)
Miami Marlins FS Florida +9,000 (27,000)
BOTTOM 5
Washington Nationals MASN/MASN2 -21,000 (46,000)
Detroit Tigers FS Detroit -27,000 (140,000)
Atlanta Braves SportSouth^ -28,000 (67,000)
Boston Red Sox NESN -35,000 (128,000)
Texas Rangers FS Southwest -52,000 (71,000)

AVERAGE RATING

TEAM RSN CHANGE* (AVG. RATING CHANGE*)
TOP 5
Detroit Tigers FS Detroit 7.52 (-17%)
St. Louis Cardinals FS Midwest 7.45 (-8%)
Pittsburgh Pirates Root Sports 6.37 (+2%)
Cincinnati Reds FS Ohio 6.37 (-19%)
Milwaukee Brewers FS Wisconsin 5.91 (+32%)
BOTTOM 5
Los Angeles Angels FS West 1.42 (+15%)
Chicago White Sox CSN Chicago 1.39 (+16%)
Oakland A’s CSN California 1.31 (+14%)
Los Angeles Dodgers SportsNet LA 0.70 (-70%)
Houston Astros CSN Houston 0.39 (-9%)

RATING CHANGE

TEAM RSN CHANGE* (AVG. RATING, 2014)
TOP 5
Miami Marlins FS Florida +47% (1.63)
Milwaukee Brewers FS Wisconsin +32% (5.91)
New York Yankees YES +22% (3.05)
Chicago White Sox CSN Chicago +16% (1.39)
Los Angeles Angels FS West +15% (1.42)
BOTTOM 5
Minnesota Twins FS North -24% (3.72)
Atlanta Braves SportSouth^ -32% (2.80)
Washington Nationals MASN/MASN2 -34% (1.90)
Texas Rangers FS Southwest -44% (2.66)
Los Angeles Dodgers SportsNet LA -70% (0.70)

* Change compared with midseason 2013 data.
^ The Braves split their games between SportSouth and FS South. Games on FS South have averaged a 3.20 rating, down 27 percent compared with midseason last year, and have averaged 76,000 households, down 5,000 from last year.
Note: Similar data was unavailable for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal analysis of Nielsen data


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