A little more than one-third into the Major Baseball League
season, several regional sports networks are showing solid ratings increases
compared to last season—and most are not in markets of first-place teams.
Nine teams are averaging double-digit rate increases when matching
a comparable number of games last season to this one. Topping the list is MASN,
which televises both Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals games.
Season-to-date, comparing the same number of games, the Orioles are averaging a
6.04 household rating this season, against a 4.36 last season, a rise of 39%,
according to Nielsen data. The Nationals are averaging a 2.84 rating compared
to a 2.06, up 38%.
Right behind MASN is Fox Sports Kansas City, which televises
Royals games and is averaging a 5.55 vs. a 4.04 last season, a 37% increase.
The Orioles have a 33-25 record, good
for second place in their division; the Nationals have a 29-29 record,
which has them in second place in their division; and the Royals are in fifth
and last place in their division with a 23-32 record.
Fox Sports West, which televises Los Angeles Angels games,
is averaging a 1.25, up 28% from the 0.98 it was averaging last season at this
time, even though the Angels' record is only 26-33.
The only first-place team showing ratings increases at this
point is the Atlanta Braves, whose games are shown on both Fox Sports South and
SportSouth networks. Fox Sports South ratings are a 4.34, up 23% from a 3.52,
while SportSouth ratings are up to a 3.99 from a 3.21, a 24% increase, all for
the Braves, whose record is 36-22.
Other first-place teams in markets such as Boston, Detroit,
St. Louis, Phoenix (televising the Arizona Diamondbacks) and Arlington (the
Texas Rangers) are either flat or down, while the New York Yankees ratings on
YES Network are down significantly. While the Yanks have had a solid season
with a 33-25 record and are battling for first place, they have been doing
so without injured stars such as Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, along with the
just-returned Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. Part of the slow ratings
start for the Yankees has also been due to both the New York Knicks in the NBA
and the New York Rangers in the NHL making the playoffs. A substantial portion
of the local viewing was siphoned off on nights when those two teams were
playing. But with both of those teams now eliminated, the Yankees ratings
should begin to rise.
Root Sports Pittsburgh, which televises the Pirates' games,
is up 22% from a 4.73 to a 5.75, but that's likely due to the team's 35-24
record that has them in third place in their division but within striking
distance of first.
Sports Time Ohio, which televises the Cleveland Indians
games, is averaging a 5.22 rating, up 10% from a 4.74 for an Indians team that
is 30-28 and a contender in its division. Comcast Sports Net Bay Area, which
televises the 31-27 San Francisco Giants games, is averaging a 4.66, up 12%
from a 4.15.
Meanwhile, Fox Sports San Diego, which televises the 26-32
fourth-place San Diego Padres, is up 23% to a 2.44 from a 1.98.
Clearly, fans' local support is not necessarily affected by
a team's win-loss record.
In almost all the local markets, the RSN ratings
for televised Major League games are higher than those on the ESPN national
telecasts of games shown in the respective local markets. And the
primetime 7 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Sunday ratings for the RSNs in the Major League
team markets in many instances have dwarfed the ratings for ESPN in those markets.
For example, the primetime nightly household rating for Root
Sports Pittsburgh is a 6.26 compared to ESPN's 0.63, a difference of 894%. NESN's
ratings in Boston are a 5.55, compared to a 0.61 for ESPN, a difference of
810%. Fox Sports Ohio averages a 3.69 vs. ESPN's 0.87, a difference of 324%.
Fox Sports Detroit is averaging a 4.24 in primetime, compared to ESPN's 1.16, a
difference of 264%. Fox Sports Midwest is averaging a 3.69, compared to ESPN's
1.07, a difference of 245%. The list goes on.
That's a primary reason why the RSNs in Cincinnati, Detroit
and St. Louis were almost sold out of ad inventory before the start of the
While the RSNs use those ratings comparisons as part of
their sales process, the sales pitch is not one that takes negative shots at
ESPN, says Kyle Sherman, executive VP of Home Team Sports, a division of Fox
Sports Media Group, which not only sells national ad inventory for the Fox
RSNs, but also for some of the Comcast RSNs.
"We use those numbers to show the passion of the local fan,"
Sherman says. "The regional networks' ratings are higher than ESPN's in each
local market because of the more fanatical fan support for their local teams.
Fans tune in night after night locally to watch their hometown teams at a much
higher rate than fans watch a national game that might have two out-of-market
teams. When we sell to marketers, we sell our own strength rather than selling
negatively against ESPN. We position ourselves as an important component of
their sports media buy and we are a complement to whatever they do with ESPN."
Sherman says the April-June quarter is one of the best sales
quarters ever for the RSNs, and as previously reported by MBPT, 24 of the top
25 advertisers are back, along with a host of new advertisers that include Taco
Bell, T-Mobile, Chase, Procter & Gamble and Bridgestone-Firestone, among
Sherman says the RSNs are also becoming more of an upfront
sales player, something that has been increasing over the past five years.
"Most of our upfront pitch involves trying to
get marketers to move some of their primetime entertainment dollars into
regional sports telecasts," Sherman says. "This year, we've had discussions
with some marketers but most of our serious negotiations usually begin after
the broadcast and cable marketplaces are done negotiating. Each year, we
are getting more and more ad dollars earlier from these upfront talks."