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Volume 22 No. 12

Research and Ratings

Fans in St. Louis tuned in to see if the team would reach the postseason.
Photo: Getty Images

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.

More than one-third of NHL fans correctly identified Enterprise as the league’s official car rental partner in the league’s 12th annual Sponsor Breakthrough study, fielded recently for Sports Business Journal by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment. The St. Louis-based company was one of the league’s top advertisers over the past year, according to, spending $8.2 million during NHL programming.


Other notable takeaways from the data (grades at right are from Turnkey):


Hits & Misses

+7% Points: Marriott
The highest awareness level the league has seen in that category.

+3% Points: Enterprise
34 percent rate is higher than its four closest competitors combined.

-10% Points: Honda
A return to normal levels after last year’s record high of 31 percent.

-14% Points: Pepsi
Down from a record high of 40 percent in 2017, despite a rise in ad spending.

Coors Light’s recognition level increased for the fifth straight year and has doubled since the survey was fielded after the 2010-11 season, the beer’s first as a sponsor.


For the fifth time in the history of the study, just a single percentage point separated Pepsi (the league’s sponsor since 2006) and Coca-Cola, with the former drawing the short straw this year.


A survey-high 41 percent of respondents selected the “I’m not sure” option when asked to name the league’s official hotel. That response was also the top choice in the health insurance (38%), streaming (40%) and automobile (28%) categories.

Since 2007, Turnkey Intelligence has been benchmarking detailed sponsor performance and breakthrough metrics for Sports Business Journal across Major League Baseball, the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS, NASCAR, PGA Tour and NCAA.

Presented here are the results for this year’s NHL study.

Our research shows that you can never take your foot off the gas pedal when looking to reach your customer. Activation, connection and sharing are the key ingredients to brand success.

Of the 10 major NHL sponsors included in this study, only three show improvement in 2018 over 2017 — Enterprise, Coors Light and Marriott — and we see some fairly concerning declines in sponsor recall from Gatorade, Geico and Honda. Competition also has wreaked noticeable havoc; although Honda is the league’s official partner, Toyota has 13 team deals where the NHL local team consumer passion is most intense, thus eroding Honda’s recall. However, Honda still sees a strong lift in “consideration” from the general NHL fan.

Enterprise, Coors Light and Marriott have connected to consumers through smart, extensive marketing programs using their NHL association as a direct touch point. Most importantly, they have themed their NHL communication so that it was consistent with their overall brand message and created consumer experiences that were fun.

Enterprise utilizes retired star Martin Brodeur in its creative, integrating with its overall message of “we’ll pick you up” by using multiple vehicles to meet the needs of the athlete. Coors Light is linking the fan with NHL alumni experiences — meet and greets with their heroes where they can get up close and personal. Marriott focuses on youth by extending group rates for youth hockey players and their families.

Being an official sponsor is no longer enough with today’s younger consumer. Sponsors must find ways to provide this elusive consumer with exclusive experiences.

All of us who believe in sports as a vehicle to reach consumers know in today’s environment, the more we relate our communication to our customers and share our unique benefits as a sponsor, the more we will win the day.

Tony Ponturo is executive vice president of strategy for Turnkey Sports & Entertainment. Previously, he spent 26 years at Anheuser-Busch, overseeing the company’s marketing, media and sponsorship from 1991 to 2008.