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Volume 20 No. 41
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Lack of deals, wins sends Astros’ ratings down

Plagued by distribution problems and stuck with a team that has one of baseball’s worst records, CSN Houston is seeing MLB’s lowest local TV ratings in five years.

The Houston Astros, in their first season on CSN Houston, are averaging a 0.43 rating and just 10,000 homes per game. Those marks are MLB’s lowest local numbers since the Washington Nationals pulled a 0.34 and 8,000 homes on MASN for the 2008 season, the year the team lost 102 games.

Big distributors such as DirecTV do not carry the Astros’ RSN, CSN Houston.
The Astros’ average rating is also down 66 percent from what the team averaged last year on FS Houston, the biggest percentage drop among all U.S.-based MLB teams.

The Astros and NBA Rockets cut a deal with Comcast to launch an RSN in the Houston market last fall. The channel, which is majority-owned by the two teams, has not been able to cut deals with several big distributors, like DirecTV and AT&T, due to disagreements over subscriber fees. That largely accounts for the ratings drop-off.

But that doesn’t mean all carriage disputes result in lower numbers. Another RSN with distribution problems, FS San Diego, has posted the biggest percentage ratings increase this season among U.S.-based MLB teams. San Diego Padres games have the third-lowest average audience among teams monitored by SportsBusiness Journal, but the team’s 2.74 rating (29,000 homes) is up 52 percent from last year, somewhat surprising considering the team’s below-.500 record.

The main difference: AT&T and Dish Network started carrying FS San Diego this year; last year, they didn’t. That means Padres games can be seen by more San Diego subscribers than last year. Time Warner Cable remains the main holdout, refusing to carry FS San Diego.

SportsBusiness Journal reviewed data from all 29 U.S.-based MLB teams. Only Toronto Blue Jays ratings were not available. Overall, 14 of the clubs showed local ratings increases; 15 showed decreases.

Halfway through the season, MLB has experienced big ratings drops in some of the league’s largest markets. New York Yankees games on YES Network are down 39 percent and are averaging fewer than 200,000 homes for the first time in a decade — but, as expected in the country’s biggest TV market, they have the highest viewership in MLB.

Similarly, among other big-market clubs, ratings for Phillies games on CSN Philadelphia are down 36 percent; White Sox games on CSN Chicago are down 33 percent; Mets games on SNY are down 29 percent; and Cubs games on CSN Chicago are down 24 percent.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Detroit Tigers are poised to claim their second consecutive local TV ratings crown. The team’s 8.96 rating on FS Detroit ranks ahead of St. Louis Cardinals games on FS Midwest (8.07) and Cincinnati Reds games on FS Ohio (7.83), and the Tigers’ average is up from 2012 while the St. Louis and Cincinnati marks are down from last year.

MLB teams’ RSN ratings

Top 5
Team RSN Avg. rating (Change*)
Detroit Tigers FS Detroit 8.96 (+3%)
St. Louis Cardinals FS Midwest 8.07 (-2%)
Cincinnati Reds FS Ohio 7.83 (-8%)
Boston Red Sox NESN 6.89 (-7%)
Pittsburgh Pirates Root Pittsburgh 6.14 (+17%)
Bottom 5
Los Angeles Angels FS West 1.22 (+13%)
Chicago White Sox CSN Chicago 1.19 (-33%)
Oakland A’s CSN California 1.15 (+1%)
Miami Marlins FS Florida 1.14 (-49%)
Houston Astros CSN Houston 0.43 (-66%)
Top 5
Team RSN Change in households watching*
San Diego Padres FS San Diego +52% (2.74)
Kansas City Royals FS Kansas City +44% (5.79)
Baltimore Orioles MASN/MASN2 +33% (6.04)
Atlanta Braves* FS South +29% (4.40)
Wash. Nationals MASN/MASN2 +28% (2.85)
Bottom 5
Chicago White Sox CSN Chicago -33% (1.19)
Philadelphia Phillies CSN Philadelphia -36% (3.81)
New York Yankees YES Network -39% (2.51)
Miami Marlins FS Florida -49% (1.14)
Houston Astros CSN Houston -66% (0.43)
Top 5
Team RSN Avg. No. of households (Change*)
New York Yankees YES Network 185,000 (-39%)
Detroit Tigers FS Detroit 165,000 (+3%)
Boston Red Sox NESN 163,000 (-7%)
New York Mets SNY 135,000 (-29%)
Los Angeles Dodgers FS Prime Ticket 126,000 (+15%)
Bottom 5
Milwaukee Brewers FS Wisconsin 41,000 (-24%)
San Diego Padres FS San Diego 29,000 (+52%)
Oakland A’s CSN California 29,000 (+1%)
Miami Marlins FS Florida 18,000 (-49%)
Houston Astros CSN Houston 10,000 (-66%)

* Numbers are for 37 games; an additional 42 games on SportSouth averaged a 4.02, +17%.
Note: For games through July 5.
Source: Nielsen