Fired up for ratings
MLB television ratings have been good — not great — so far this season, but network executives believe the league is shaping up for a huge second half.
That’s because big-name teams from the biggest markets are positioned for playoff runs this season, and when big markets are engaged, TV ratings tend to soar. Nine of the 10 largest TV markets are home to teams that are over .500 and expected to play meaningful baseball in September (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, Houston, Boston and Atlanta).
First Look podcast, with MLB ratings and All-Star Game discussion at the 6:30 mark:
“It feels like you have the right brands and the right big markets where you want them to be going into the second half,” said Mike Mulvihill, Fox Sports executive vice president of research, league operations and strategy.
Mulvihill credited Fox’s big events — the U.S. Open and World Cup — for drawing audiences to baseball games on Fox and FS1 in the first half of the season. Fox’s prime-time windows are averaging 2.544 million viewers, up 11 percent and a five-year high for the Fox broadcast package. MLB games on FS1 are averaging 420,000 viewers, down 13 percent from last year.
“Over the last couple of weekends, there’s been some good cross-pollination among the soccer audience, the U.S. Open audience and the baseball audience,” Mulvihill said. “It’s really benefited baseball.”
With a U.S. Open lead-in, the St. Louis Cardinals-Chicago Cubs game on June 16 averaged 3.1 million viewers. With a World Cup match earlier in the day, the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game averaged 3.2 million on June 30. Those are Fox’s two biggest regular-season MLB audiences since 2013. FS1 scored its biggest MLB audience June 14 when the Yankees-Tampa Bay Rays game averaged 980,000 viewers.
On ESPN, “Sunday Night Baseball” is down 8 percent, averaging 1.61 million viewers. ESPN also thinks its second-half schedule is backloaded (i.e., it has more Red Sox-Yankees games scheduled) and expects ratings to rebound.
“It’s a good season, with the potential for it to become a great season given some of those markets and brands,” Mulvihill said. “The potential is there for the second half to be better than the first half.”
HOW GO LOCAL RATINGS? The St. Louis Cardinals are in the midst of one of the most amazing streaks in baseball.
Television ratings for the team’s games on FS Midwest have been among the three highest in MLB over 18 consecutive seasons (2000-17). Halfway through a 2018 season that has seen the Cardinals flirt with the .500 mark, the team once again is perched atop MLB’s local ratings and is on pace to stretch that string to 19 years.
Cardinals games have averaged a 6.76 rating this year, placing the team just ahead of two other traditional MLB TV rating stalwarts, the Cleveland Indians (6.29 rating on SportsTime Ohio) and the Red Sox (6.19 rating on NESN).
Overall, MLB’s local ratings through July 10 averaged a 2.98 rating, flat with last year. Of the 29 U.S.-based teams, 15 have posted increases and 14 have posted decreases.
“There aren’t a ton of surprises in there,” Mulvihill said. “You expect the entire league to net out at something close to a wash. The best stories are coming from the teams that are playing the best baseball. That’s exactly what you’d expect it to be.”
Those stories include Houston Astros games on AT&T Houston, which are on pace to deliver the team’s best ratings since 2007. They include Atlanta Braves games on FS South and FS Southeast, which are up 50 percent (to a 3.05 rating). And they include Yankees games on YES Network, which are up 11 percent to a 3.96 rating.
At the bottom end of the ratings chart, A’s games on NBC Sports California (0.67 rating) and White Sox games on NBC Chicago (0.83) are the only teams that did not crack a 1 rating. Ratings for Baltimore Orioles games on MASN have dropped 50 percent, Tigers games on FS Detroit have dropped 44 percent, and Royals games on FS Kansas City have dropped 40 percent.