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Volume 21 No. 1
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Smallest MLB markets show ratings boost

MLB saw its largest local ratings gains in its smallest markets this season. Six of the league’s eight smallest TV markets posted double-digit ratings jumps this year.

On the flip side, the poor on-field performance of many of the league’s big-market teams led to ratings declines, with numbers down sharply in four of MLB’s five biggest TV markets. In fact, five of those big-market teams saw their local ratings drop by more than 20 percent.

As is the case most seasons, a correlation exists between a team’s on-field play and its TV ratings. Buoyed by its first winning season since 2003, Kansas City Royals games on FS Kansas City registered a whopping 71 percent increase this season. Small- to mid-market teams that were in pennant races, like the Orioles, Pirates, Cardinals and Indians, also saw big increases.

“There is a heightened level of excitement around Royals baseball, and that is reflected in the increased viewership,” said Jack Donovan, general manager and senior vice president of FS Kansas City and FS Midwest.

But in New York, the country’s biggest market and where both local teams failed to reach the playoffs, Yankees games on YES Network saw a 32 percent decline, and Mets games on SNY dropped 30 percent. Since 2007, the Yankees’ TV audience has dropped 44 percent; the Mets are down 51 percent. That equates to 274,000 fewer viewers on average in 2013 than 2007.

Similarly, in the third-biggest TV market, Chicago, ratings for White Sox games dropped 45 percent and Cubs games were down 9 percent on CSN Chicago. In Philadelphia (the fourth-biggest market), the Phillies saw a 39 percent drop, while in Dallas-Fort Worth, the fifth-biggest U.S. TV market, the Rangers experienced a 21 percent drop.

The teams in each of those markets fell short of making the playoffs this season.

Of MLB’s biggest markets, only Los Angeles saw an increase in local ratings. The NL West-winning Dodgers posted a more than 40 percent increase over last year’s average rating. The Angels, while disappointing on the field, drew a 1 percent increase in the country’s second-biggest TV market.

The biggest percentage ratings drop occurred in Houston, where Astros games on CSN Houston were down 60 percent from last year. The Astros averaged just 9,000 homes per telecast, MLB’s lowest mark for a team since the Washington Nationals ended the 2008 season averaging 8,000 homes per game on MASN.

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

The Detroit Tigers were the top-rated team for a second year in a row. The Tigers averaged a 9.60 rating on FS Detroit during their run to the postseason. Four other playoff teams rounded out the top five: the Cardinals, Pirates, Reds and Red Sox.

MLB teams’ RSN ratings

* For 76 games on SportSouth. The Braves also had 68 games on FS South, averaging 98,000 households (+20,000).
Notes: For games played through Sept. 19. Changes compared to 2012.        
Source: Nielsen