2014 MLB Postseason Ratings Wrap-Up

Here are the viewership numbers for every game of the MLB postseason sorted by viewership. Game 7 of the World Series had more than ten million more viewers than the next-most viewed baseball game of the year.

The move of half of the pre-World Series portion of the postseason to Fox Sports 1, with one wild card game moving to ESPN, had a tremendous impact on the ratings. Only two non-World Series games, both ALCS games on TBS, had more viewers than ESPN’s Wild Card game, and only one other game beat TBS’ Wild Card game, and that only if Fox Sports 1’s analytics-based telecast of NLCS Game 1 is included in the numbers. FS1 was able to draw a larger audience to its most-watched broadcast ever, NLCS Game 4, than Fox alone drew to NLCS Game 1 (both had over five million viewers), and thanks to drawing the big-name Giants and Cardinals in contrast to the ALCS’ Orioles-Royals series, four out of five NLCS games drew a larger audience than all of TBS’ ALDS or non-primetime ALCS games, but none of FS1’s NLDS games could beat more than one primetime ALDS game, Royals-Angels Game 2, which had 3.414 million viewers.

The most-watched non-primetime game was Game 2 of the ALCS with 4.25 million viewers; the most-watched non-primetime Division Series game was Tigers-Orioles Game 1 with almost four million viewers, which started at 5:30 PM ET, followed by Orioles-Tigers Game 3 with 3.297 million viewers. Depending on definition, FS1’s most-watched non-primetime game was either Dodgers-Cardinals Game 4 at 5 PM ET with 3.267 million viewers, or Cardinals-Giants Game 3 with 2.779 million viewers, by far the smallest audience of the League Championship Series. Giants-Nationals Game 1, at just over two million viewers, was FS1’s only other non-primetime game, the least viewed non-MLBN game of the postseason, and the only FS1 game to be beaten by TBS’ least-viewed postseason game, Tigers-Orioles Game 2, a noon start that attracted 2.261 million viewers. The least-viewed non-MLBN primetime game was Dodgers-Cardinals Game 3 with 2.887 million viewers.

26 games had more viewers than the most-watched regular season game window of the season, with Dodgers-Cardinals Game 3 beating every regular season game window that wasn’t World Cup-inflated. For perspective, 30 games aired on Fox, TBS, ESPN, and FS1, all but two of which beat every non-World-Cup-inflated regular season game on ESPN.

Of MLB Network’s two games, Nationals-Giants Game 3 attracted a larger audience with 1.838 million viewers, with Cardinals-Dodgers Game 2 lagging behind with 1.785 million viewers. Both games beat last year’s MLBN games by substantial margins (last year’s most-watched MLBN game had less than a million viewers), and both games broke the previous record for the most-watched game in MLBN history, Tigers-Athletics Game 2 in 2012, which had had around 1.3 million viewers. Both games aired later in the day than previous MLBN postseason games, and Cardinals-Dodgers Game 2 competed with an extra-inning game on FS1 for much of the game, so it finished lower despite airing more of the game in primetime. Only 19 regular season windows on any network beat Nationals-Giants Game 3, including no non-“Sunday Night Baseball” ESPN windows, and that only if the YES Network audience for Derek Jeter’s final home game is combined with the MLBN audience. Only one additional regular season window beat Cardinals-Dodgers Game 2.

Only four regular season games on MLBN, probably all involving the Yankees, beat MLBN’s overflow coverage of Cardinals-Dodgers Game 1. FS2’s overflow coverage of the same game became, at the time, the ninth most-watched program in the network’s history, including its days as Fuel, and the fourth most-watched program since relaunching as FS2. To my knowledge, only one regular-season game not on Fox, ESPN, or ESPN2 beat the combined audience for the overflow coverage on both networks.

All numbers from TVbytheNumbers, TV Media Insights, and Awful Announcing. Some Fox household ratings from SportsBusiness Daily.

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2014 MLB Regular Season Ratings Wrap-Up

Putting this post together was a mess. This year coincided with the Son of the Bronx shutdown, which affected MLB far more than other sports, and while I did lean on the guy to provide MLB Network and other baseball ratings from the “gap” I didn’t realize he would only provide the top five shows on MLB Network his first few weeks on Awful Announcing, probably not enough to cover every game. His early days at AA also coincided with the World Cup dominating ESPN’s top ten, meaning I might not even have every ESPN window with over a million viewers. Conversely, he started including numbers for the TBS game late in the season (which does about as well as a medium-high MLBN game, in other words, even worse than I thought) but not quite throughout TBS’ portion of the season.

Still, here’s every MLB game I do have numbers for. A couple of factors led me to not split this post up into two parts like I did last year. First, the new TV contract meant each Saturday had at least one game on Fox Sports 1 (as Fox broadcast’s schedule compressed down to just Baseball Night in America and some September windows), and with no one knowing where FS1 was until the postseason (and only needing to find out if their team on a Fox RSN had a “regional elevate” game), many FS1 games, especially those that weren’t regional elevates, had numbers on par with MLBN games. The other, of course, was having access to TBS figures. In addition, there seemed to be more games scheduled for ESPN2 than last year, and they got some bad ratings, on par with those other three networks I just mentioned. Finally, with Derek Jeter’s last home game getting a million viewers just on YES, I rolled its numbers up with MLB Network’s figures, and the result is a game that had more viewers than any window that wasn’t on Fox or Sunday Night Baseball, before MASN’s Orioles broadcast is even factored in. Counting an RSN might be a dicey proposition – those numbers aren’t widely available for most games, and the most-watched games across RSNs and (if applicable) national telecasts would quickly fill up with Yankees and Red Sox games – but it’s ultimately the same principle as including local simulcasts of cable NFL games, and this was truly rarified air.

Numbers on cable where household ratings are available or where 18-49 ratings are not, including all games on TBS or MLB Network, from Son of the Bronx or Awful Announcing. Numbers on broadcast from SportsBusiness Daily or Sports Media Watch. 18-49 numbers, where available, from TVbytheNumbers, The Futon Critic, or TV Media Insights.

Read more2014 MLB Regular Season Ratings Wrap-Up

MLB is fixing its blackout policy!!! (not really)

Everyone loves to hate MLB’s “outdated” blackout policies. Of course the NBA and NHL have similar policies and presumably don’t allow you to watch in-market teams online, and they don’t come in for nearly as much hatred, so perhaps the hate towards MLB’s blackout policies is more part of a larger rush to rag on MLB rather than cause of what’s ailing it. Or perhaps it’s because NBA and NHL teams’ blackout areas don’t reach out to a ridiculous extent with no regard to the actual availability of the teams, with the result that areas further away from any MLB teams end up blacked out of more teams than they were if they were closer, with the end result that if you live in Charlotte, the fifth-largest market without an MLB team, you’re blacked out of the Nationals, Orioles, Braves, and Reds, with some markets blacked out of even more teams!

But fret not, because MLB Advanced Media may be about to fix those notorious blackout rules – with a catch:

In an interview this week, Bob Bowman said he is optimistic that a deal could be reached soon with various cable operators, channels and ballclubs. The catch is that even with an MLB.TV subscription, which starts at $20 a month, fans will also need a cable or satellite TV subscription to view hometown teams at home.

That doesn’t seem like it would actually fix any of the problems people have with the blackout rules. People who don’t have a cable subscription still won’t be able to watch any of their local teams’ games; okay, fine, baseball doesn’t want to fix that problem because they’re raking in too much money from RSNs, and baseball games on RSNs are the biggest obstacle to cord-cutting at the moment because of the tremendous popularity of local baseball teams. But presumably, in order to authenticate your cable or satellite subscription you’d need to actually get the RSN your team is carried on, and if you get the RSN your team is carried on you wouldn’t need MLB.tv or MLB Extra Innings to watch it in the first place!

It seems like this change is oriented more at solving another, very real but mostly unrelated, problem: how slow RSNs have been at embracing streaming. The Yankees shut down their ridiculously-expensive streaming service after five underwhelming seasons this year, leaving no US teams with any in-market streaming capabilities. The main issue appears to be that RSNs want to offer streaming at no additional cost while teams want to be reimbursed on top of what they’re already being paid to be on the RSN to begin with, at a time when virtually every national rights deal includes streaming rights, and the distinction between carriage on linear television and streaming services is an artifact of times past. MLBAM’s solution appears to be using the existing MLB.tv infrastructure to create in-market streaming for all teams through brute force, with an eye towards seeing how much extra revenue they can collect that way while still forcing customers to authenticate (though don’t expect it to be very successful when you’re charging more than what YES was charging – $20 a month v. $69.95 a year). If that’s what you want to do, that’s great, but don’t bill it as “fixing the blackout rules” when it’s not.

When and how did broadcast television lose the battle to cable?

What is the most popular programming on television this summer? What network is most attracting viewers’ attention with all the choices out there?

Is it NBC on the back of its hit reality show America’s Got Talent?

Is it CBS and its collection of shows popular with all ages, from Big Brother to 60 Minutes?

Is it ABC with shows like The Bachelorette? Or Fox with MasterChef and Hell’s Kitchen?

Perhaps it’s something on cable? Might it be TNT on the back of Major Crimes and Rizzoli and Isles?

Perhaps it’s USA on the back of the insanely popular WWE Raw?

Perhaps it’s seasonal and occasional programming like Shark Week on Discovery or Sharknado 2 on SyFy?

Perhaps it’s whatever ESPN puts on, since sports seems to be the big thing these days?

The correct answer is none of the above.

For 12 of the 24 markets where at least one relevant RSN isn’t embroiled in carriage disputes, the correct answer is the local baseball team on the local RSN, according to Maury Brown’s analysis on Forbes.com.

Several more teams place in the top three, and every single one of the 27 US teams whose RSN isn’t embroiled in carriage disputes ranks in the top nine shows in primetime in their respective markets – regardless of how they’re doing in the standings.

All told, local baseball team games add up to an average 1.99 household rating – and that doesn’t include the viewership the Dodgers and Astros would be getting if they weren’t mired in carriage disputes, or the viewership teams get from outlying markets.

For the record, the 10th-most watched show on cable TV for the week of August 4-10 only managed a 2.2 rating – and at least two shows in the top ten didn’t air in primetime.

Forget about ESPN; it may well be RSNs and the local sports they provide that keep people tied to their cable connection more than anything else.

Out of all national baseball broadcasts in 2013, only four or five of the six World Series games drew a higher rating than Detroit Tigers regular-season games averaged through the 2014 All-Star Break. Only the remaining World Series games beat the regular-season average of the Cardinals and Pirates – and one of those teams was in that World Series. And the World Series was on broadcast, while all those local games were on cable.

Perhaps most tellingly, no sports event on cable that wasn’t a BCS or NFL game drew a better rating in 2013 than the Tigers, Cardinals, and Pirates 2014 regular-season averages.

For all that I complain about the BCS (and now the CFP) and the Final Four moving to cable, perhaps it is the absence of local Major League Baseball games on broadcast television that is the real crime. Of the many reasons why I hate the existence of “MyNetworkTV”, perhaps one of the bigger ones is that it should not have been necessary to provide programming to fill the hole on stations left behind by the CW merger. Local sports, especially baseball in summer, could have more than sufficed – if those stations were willing and able to acquire it.

By the way, MyNetworkTV was founded in 2006, two years before the BCS deal that first opened my eyes to cable’s unfair advantages over broadcast and made me worried about the march of sports events to cable.

Which brings me back to the question in the title of this post: When and how did broadcast television lose the battle to cable?

Was it the advent of the dual-revenue stream pioneered by ESPN? Was it when UPN and the WB were founded, giving formerly independent stations programming commitments that made it harder for them to air local sports? Was it when – implicitly voluntarily – broadcast stations “stopped bidding for sports rights“, surrendering them, the massive ratings they entailed, and what would turn out to be a big chunk of the reason for the existence of all of linear television, to RSNs that would in turn keep people tied to their cable connection? Was it when the CW merger happened and the stations left behind formed and/or joined MyNetworkTV rather than face an uncertain future – one that could have made them far more relevant than any alternative?

Whenever it happened, one thing is clear: the disappearance of local baseball from broadcast television is one of the great underrated stories of the rise of cable, and one of the great missed opportunities of the past few decades for broadcast – and still represents perhaps broadcast television’s greatest opportunity for relevance going forward. I still think the stations exist to support a true fifth broadcast network – in large part due to stations that held steadfastly to their independence rather than join the Fox network when it launched. But given this, I’m no longer sure how many of them would want to.

What can baseball do to save itself?

That was Keith Olbermann’s intro to last night’s show, where he used the occasion of the 20-year anniversary of the 1994 baseball strike to opine on the existential threat facing baseball today – kids not getting interested in the sport and declining national TV ratings. To that I would add weak ratings, even considering the sport’s weak general ratings, among people slightly older than kids – the 18-49 demographics advertisers love. He attributes the decline of national TV ratings to the adoption of interleague play removing the novelty factor of being able to see teams you’d otherwise only be able to see if your team made the World Series, requiring baseball to find “a new reason” to watch nationally televised games even when your team isn’t playing in them, thus keeping up the value of the national TV contract and in turn keeping smaller market teams in business. What should that new reason be, and how can baseball create it?

I’m going to assume that the problem is not that baseball is an inherently boring sport, something people have been saying for decades, even though even baseball’s fans sometimes wax poetic about the sport being “passed down from father to son”, which is another way of saying the only reason anyone would be a baseball fan is because their parents brainwashed them to be. I’m going to assume the sport can be saved when a lot of damage to its currency among younger people has already been done, which also requires leaving aside factors like steroids that might have poisoned the sport for a generation, and rendered its records, once a massive part of the mythology of the sport, untrustworthy forever. Even then, baseball has signed its new TV contract and as such there are some things it can’t change, like having TBS come out of nowhere for the postseason, and it can’t inoculate itself against cord-cutting when it’s just agreed to cut its presence on broadcast TV to a few weeks in the middle of summer and September in favor of a network that might be one of the first to go if cord-cutting results in catastrophe for linear cable TV. I’m also going to leave aside things involving the game itself like speeding up the pace of play or getting rid of Joe Buck.

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that football and basketball have the equivalent of interleague play, and significantly stronger national TV ratings – in basketball’s case, in spite of the fact that it has games on every day on cable TV just as baseball does, even though that is often perceived as “oversaturating the product”. They do this because they are able to craft a national narrative larger than any individual team, one driven by stars that encourages people all over the country to pay attention. Everyone knows the Patriots are “Tom Brady’s team”, or the Broncos are “Peyton Manning’s team”, or the Saints are “Drew Brees’ team”, and they automatically know what it means when any two of those teams square off and are willing to tune in for same. Ditto for basketball where the Cavaliers are “LeBron James’ team”, the Lakers are “Kobe Bryant’s team”, or the Former Sonics are “Kevin Durant’s team”.

Baseball is a star-driven sport – certainly more so than hockey, where the stars are only on the ice one-fourth of the time and don’t really have any more impact on the outcome than the lesser lines – and should be able to take advantage of the same factors, crafting a national narrative out of its pennant races. But there also are a lot of things football and basketball has that it doesn’t:

  • Baseball has way more games in a regular season than football or basketball – nearly double the NBA’s number. Those games are divided up into series where two teams play each other day after day. When, say, the Clippers and Celtics face off, it’s an event among many similar events over the course of the season. When the Angels and Red Sox face off, they’ll face off once on MLB Network, then again on ESPN, then again on MLB Network – and if it’s on the weekend they’ll go MLB Network, then Fox or Fox Sports 1, and then ESPN. It sort of dilutes the knowledge that these two teams are facing off when you see them two to four straight days.
  • Baseball may be a star-driven sport, but not nearly to the extent of football or basketball where one good player can completely change the fortunes of a franchise. No position player has much