Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dollars & Sense - MLB Playoff TV Ratings

No sweeps.  Only a few blow outs.  A few ninth inning comebacks.  Besides a couple of smaller market teams playing, the 2012 playoffs have been a great scenario for Major League Baseball.  Even if you take it back to the end of the regular season you will see division races that went down to the final day.  The drama has stayed the same just this time in the high stakes of the playoffs.

Although many people constantly compare the MLB’s television ratings to those of the National Football League, it is all about comparing apples to apples.  The NFL and MLB are two completely different entities.  We know that the NFL dominates the airwaves each on every week.  Let’s take a look at what baseball has been doing against, well, baseball.

The four league division series were broadcasted mainly on TBS with two games airing on MLB Network.  The games on TBS drew an average 2.4 rating.  In comparison, the same games last season drew an average 2.7 rating.  Last year three of the four series’ went the distance to a game five; this year all four series’ went to game five.  It is also worth noting that this was the first year of the wildcard play-in games in each league.  Some may have assumed that the addition of the play-in games may have raised interest of the playoffs as a whole, but it seemed to have more of an effect leading into the playoffs by putting greater emphasis on winning the division.

MLB Network’s two afternoon games were both successful and unsuccessful at the same time, depending on which perspective you look at the numbers from.  The two games saw an average 1.2 rating.  The rating was good in that the games were the highest viewed programs in network history, but they were bad in that they were only about half that of the TBS games.

Although the 2012 playoffs were ripe with storylines, those storylines did not show through in the collective ratings.  Oakland made the playoffs and finally sold out the Coliseum, but with San Francisco also in the playoffs, the Bay Area televisions may have been forced to choose sides.  According to USA Today, Cincinnati is ranked 35 in terms of media market size in the US.  It is also tough to ignore the ongoing feud between Washington and Baltimore about the splitting of the media market.  Could these have been reasons that dipped the ratings 0.3 points below last year’s mark?

It’s possible. We saw with game one of the American League Championship that there are indeed still baseball watchers out there.  The first game of the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees series saw a 6.8 rating.  The game was the highest rated of the day although there was no competition from the NFL.  We have also seen some huge local market numbers from the Detroit and St. Louis markets, which is a good sign.    

As the case typically goes, the true test for the MLB will come in the World Series.  World Series have been declining over the years, and the MLB needs to turn it around.  Last year the Cardinals and the Rangers went the distance with the Cardinals winning in game seven, but the game only received a 14.7 rating.  In the Mets-Red Sox World Series of 1986, their game seven saw a 38.9 rating.  Of course they are two different media markets, but the differences are still apparent. 

What can Major League Baseball do to increase their playoff ratings?  Well if I had the answer, then I would be employed in the Office of the Commissioner now wouldn’t I.  Do they run through the natural progression of sports and hope that the NFL popularity comes back down to earth sooner rather than later to even the television playing field?  Maybe.  Do they make a drastic change to their championship structure to make the stakes higher in each game?  No.  Even though the question is not answered, Major League Baseball does not seem concerned.  Their sponsors are still spending.  Most markets are still filling stadiums.  Television money is flowing.  Major League Baseball’s place in society is set, but can it translate into higher television ratings?  We will have to watch and see.

Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter @kevin_rossi.

--Rating information from USA Today, TV By The Numbers, and ESPN

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