For the first time since 2014, the St. Louis Cardinals are perched atop MLB’s local TV ratings, thanks largely to the fact that the team stayed in playoff contention until the season’s final weekend. Cardinals games on FS Midwest averaged a 7.33 rating, a number that was up 2 percent from last year.
Typically, teams that make the playoffs lead RSN ratings. That did not happen this season, as the Cardinals failed to reach the postseason yet still had the highest RSN ratings. At the opposite end, two of the five lowest-rated teams — the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A’s — made the playoffs. The Dodgers’ numbers are negatively influenced by the fact that the team hasn’t secured full carriage in the L.A. market.
Sports Business Journal reviewed data from 29 MLB teams for the entire season. Figures for the Toronto Blue Jays were not available.
Overall, MLB RSN ratings dropped 2 percent, but the games still proved to be the most popular TV programming in most markets. Games from 12 teams outrated all prime-time programming — including broadcast — in their markets; another eight teams saw their games finish in the top three for prime time.
“That’s the same story we told last year and the year before; it hasn’t changed much,” said Mike Mulvihill, executive vice president of research, league operations and strategy for Fox Sports. “The difference between those baseball numbers and everything that you’re seeing in prime is really stark and relevant.”
Nationally, Fox posted a five-year high with its MLB games, averaging 2.2 million viewers, up 9 percent. ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” dropped 4 percent; FS1’s MLB games were down 8 percent; and MLB Network registered a 4 percent increase.
Locally, the Red Sox’s TV performance mirrored the team’s record-setting on-field performance. During the season when it won a club-high 108 games, the team’s ratings on NESN posted a 24 percent increase. Its 6.83 rating is the second highest in MLB.
“You can’t underestimate the effect of winning,” said NESN President Sean McGrail. “The Red Sox have a young nucleus of players that are exciting to watch.”
In Cleveland, the Indians won the AL Central for the third consecutive year, but their ratings on SportsTime Ohio dropped 23 percent. Still, the team’s 6.43 rating is MLB’s third highest.
One of the best stories is in Atlanta, where the Braves won the NL East for the first time since 2013. The team’s ratings on FS South and FS Southeast saw a dramatic 76 percent jump.
At the other end of the list, the Baltimore Orioles saw their ratings on MASN tumble by 55 percent during a season when they lost a club-record 115 games. The Orioles’ 2.35 rating is the team’s lowest in at least 23 years, which is as far back as SBJ’s records go.