The Wild Card, League Division Series, and MLB’s Postseason

The wild card, three divisions, and the League Division Series they create have had a profound impact on Major League Baseball’s regular and postseason. The 2010 postseason and how they did with regard to TV ratings is examined here.  Two important factors that affect ratings are the market size of the teams involved and the number of games played.  6 and 7 games series give a chance to attract more viewers.-1  Competition for viewship by college football and the NFL also influences MLB’s postseason ratings.  Wikipedia discusses the Nielsen Rating system developed by Nielsen Media Research as measuring audiences in two ways: rating points/shares.  Each rating point equals 1 % of the total TV housesholds. “Share is the percentage of TV sets in use tuned to a program.-2

The League Division Series on TBS  lost ratings  this season.  For 15 games the average rating was 2.8, compared to 3.1 for 13 contests in 2009.  These statistics showed both the postive side of series length( Texas v. Tampa Bay, the LDS’s 1st game 5 since 2005 had a 4.1 share) and the negative impact of competition with the NFL and college football.  Game 4 on Sunday afternoon drew a 1.5 rating.  This was the lowest rating since TBS’ cablecasts started in 2007.-3  On Oct 9, a game between LSU  and FLA on ESPN nosed out NY vs. MIN on TBS 3.1 to 3.0.-4  The average rating for 2010 was even with 2008, but the average viewers were up slightly, 4.434 million to 4.282 million.-5

It is worth noting that when MLB reported the ratings for the LDS they lumped it together with the ALCS (which was also on TBS) that went 6 games and also featured the ratings powerhouse New York Yankees. They report a combined 9% jump over last year.-6     When taken as a seperate entity, the LDS does not have the strength to impact positively on the rest of baseball’s postseason.

As was stated above, the ALCS was on TBS this year.  The NLCS  was on FOX.  Game 2  of the ALCS between New York and Texas was the 2nd most watched program in TBS history with 11.9 million viewers.  Number 1 was the 2008 ALCS  Game 7 between Boston and Tampa Bay (13.4 million).-7   MLB reported that the 6 game ALCS in 2010, with ratings juggernaut New York, did 29% better than 2010.-8  TBS’ 2009 match up was the NLCS between PHI and LAD and went 5 games.-9  MLB’s problem when competing with the NFL was further illustrated, when a mediocre match-up between Tennesee and Jacksonville on Oct 18, beat out the Yankees and Rangers 7.2 to 6.5.-10

While information is sketchy on this years NLCS between San Francisco and Philadelphia on FOX (Blackout of games in New York probably gave FOX and MLB little to brag about),  the two games that were reported show the contrast of the LCS’s positive and negative sides.  Game 2 on Sunday October 17 again pitted the LCS against the NFL and the numbers were not good.  Football at 13.2/20 doubled baseball’s 6.5/10.-11  On the other end, Game 6 was able to hold its own against college football, beating Oklahoma at Missouri among the all-important 18-49 age group, 3.0/9 to 2.1/7.-12

Overall the addition of wild cards, and the LDS that comes along with it, has not fulfilled the promise of making MLB competitive with the NFL  in October.  Furthermore, the percentage of ratings important 6 and 7 game LCSs has declined with the addition of the LDS, going from 67% to 59%.  The best series of all, the full 7 game series, has dropped from 33% to 25%.-13   Once again, baseball can do better.

This year’s World Series between San Francisco and Texas with an average rating of 8.4 and a share of 14 was the lowest rated  in history.  While part of the problem may be attributed to Cablevision’s dispute with FOX in New York,  things did not pick up after getting back on the air for Game 3.-14  The series also lacked the money-making 6th or 7th game.  MLB has not avoided lethal competition with football in primetime, as there are now college games on Friday and Saturday, and the NFL on Sunday night.-15  2010′s Game 4 drew a 10.4 rating while the Steelers and Saints had a 11.8.-16

The fact that this year’s series was the worst in history should not be a surprise.  Wikipedia has listed all rating and share results for the World Series starting in 1984.  Of those 26, the worst 5 are all since 2005 (26th 2010: 8.4/14;  25th 2008: 8.5/14;  24th 2006: 10.1/17;  23rd  2007:  10.7/18;  22nd 2005: 11.1/19).  Even the game’s last 6 and 7 game World Series, in 2009 and 2002 respectively, could not escape the bottom of the list.  The 2009 series was 21st at 11.7/19; and 2002 was 20th at 11.9/20.  Conversely, the top 5 rated series all took place before 1991 (1st 1986: 28.6/45;  2nd 1985: 25.3/39;  3rd 1988: 23.9/39;  4th 1987: 23.8/40;  5th 1991: 23.7/39).  Big market teams could be found in the top 5 (New York, Boston, St Louis, and Los Angeles) and the bottom 7 (Philadelphia, St. Louis, Boston, Chicago,  New York, and Anaheim ).-17

While MLB and TBS can point to major gains in this year’s ALCS, the  picture in general, and the World Series in particular, does not point to a situation that favors the status quo.  Interesting division races between Tampa Bay and New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta, and San Francisco and San Diego did not translate into positive rating growth throughout the postseason.  Competition between baseball and football on many dates is still a major problem.   Improving competition with football in September and October was a major reason for changing MLB’s structure in 1994. 

The lack of real season long pennant races that climax in dramatic fashion in September deprives baseball of a strong product to compete with college football and the NFL.  Baseball believes when they allow more individual teams into the postseason it increases fan interest. In reality, this piecemeal strategy leaves MLB without a strong national product.  It decreases October viewers as their teams drop out of contention.  The Division Series has cut into baseball’s ability to provide its fans with ratings critical 6 and 7 game World Series (see this blogger’s “The Division Series or ‘Killing the Goose’ ” October 8).  When baseball fails to capitalize on it best products, pennant races and the World Series, it fails to broaden out its fan appeal in September and October.  Is it any wonder they end up losing the ratings war to more popular regular season football games? 

With talk of MLB adding teams and games to the postseason, now is the time to discuss alternatives that would improve baseball’s entire season. Season long pennant races that build through September will increase rather than decrease TV audiences;  and keep building  ratings throughout the postseason.  Baseball executives would be wise to explore expanding its August and September coverage with its broadcast partners.  By designating a package of 10-15 games emphasizing pennant race action, baseball will augment viewership for the game’s final months.  This package would replace the LDS and become baseball’s unique answer to the 1st round of baseball’s postseason. 

In these hard economic times, MLB’s entrepreneurs should take the risks necessary to add value and provide  a better product for all baseball fans.  By letting baseball be baseball that risk will pay off with a growing fan base.  Quality teams that have been followed all season will replace large markets as a reason for higher postseason ratings.  A rejuvinated World Series will regain its importance as the sports world’s premier event.  Just what the doctor ordered to increase ratings; and revenues for players and owners alike.

Footnotes:

1- http://fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/why-mlb-postseason-tv-ratings-could-likely-to-be-down.com

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/wire?section=mlb&id=5682283  ESPN MLB “TV ratings down for baseball’s division series”  Associated Press

2-http://en.wikipedia.org  “Nielsen ratings”

3- see 1- espn

4- http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-10-12/u-s-cable-television-ratings-for-the-week-of-oct10.html Bloomberg “U.S. Cable Television Ratings for the week of Oct 10″ by Rob Golum Oct 12, 2010

5- http://www.sportsmediawatch,net/2010/10 SMW Sports Media Watch “Division Series Ratings Drop on TBS” Oxt 13, 2010

6, 7, 8, 9- http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20101023&content_id=15813716&vkey=news_mlb&c_id=mlb “TBS postseason coverage ends on high note ALCS Game 6 most watched of season, 2010 rating up 9%” by Jane Lee/MLB.COM 10/23/10

10- http://www.usatoday.com/sports/2010-10-19  USA  Today “TV Ratings:NFL tops baseball despite Yankees’ playoff presence” by Michael Hiestand, USA Today

11- http://www.democratandchronicle.com/article/2010/1019/sports0101/10190307  Democrat and Chronicle.com “NFL vs.MLB on TV? It’s no contest” by Bob Matthews Staff Reporter Oct 19, 2010

12- http://tvbythenumbers.com “TV Ratings Saturday: The Giants Win the Pennant! Missouri Knocks Off Oklahoma, Outlaw Drops” by Robert Seidman Oct 24, 2010

13- http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/history/postseason/mlb_ks.jsp

14- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/world_series_television_ratings

15- http://www.bizofbaseball.com “TV Ratings for Game 1 of 2010 World Series Strong, But DFown From ’09″ by Maury Brown Oct 28, 2010

16- http://content.usatoday.com/communities/thehuddle/post/2010/11 ”NFL’s Steelers-Saints beat MLB’s World Series in TV Rating”

17- same as 14

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