Television ratings, as anyone who has tried to parse a network press release will say, can be sliced and diced in dozens of ways. This is especially true for baseball’s playoffs, where not only do the teams and schedules change season by season, but Fox and TBS take turns trading between the American League Championship Series (ALCS) and the National League Championship Series (NLCS). Here is a simplified scorecard for those two series, which concluded this past weekend.
The ALCS between the Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers on Fox averaged 7.7 million viewers over six games (per Sports Media Watch), while TBS reports that the NLCS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals averaged 5 million viewers over six games. The average audience across the 12 games was 6.35 million.
1) Fox beats TBS. Last year’s NLCS between the Cardinals and San Francisco Giants drew an average of 6.5 million viewers for Fox. (Nielsen data for past years comes courtesy of Brad Adgate of Horizon Media.) That series provides as close to an apples-to-apples comparison with TBS as we are likely to see. Fox had the Cardinals losing in seven to the Giants, who play in the sixth-largest market (pdf) and drew 6.5 million. TBS had the Cardinals winning in six over the Dodgers, who play in the second-largest market and drew 5 million. Fox has the advantage of being an over-the-air network available in just about all the 115.6 million TV households in the U.S. TBS is in 100.8 million. Fox also has a more established sports brand. (Quick, name the TBS booth announcers.) Plus, Fox had a good draw this year. The Red Sox brought a worst-to-first storyline and a bunch of beards. The Tigers brought (arguably) the best hitter and the best pitcher in the league.
2) The American League beats the National League. TBS was lucky to have the Dodgers this year. Its ratings this year were up 9 percent over its last NLCS in 2011, when the Cardinals (always the Cardinals) beat the Milwaukee Brewers and drew an average of 4.6 million viewers. Yet TBS was down from last year, when the Tigers’ rain-soaked, four-game sweep of the New York Yankees averaged 5.8 million viewers. That’s mostly a reflection of the Yankees being the biggest draw in the game, but the ALCS has consistently outdrawn the NLCS for both TBS and Fox. Since the two networks began alternating in 2007, the AL has outdrawn the NL by about 25 percent. It doesn’t hurt that every ALCS save one since then has featured either the Red Sox or the Yankees.
2a) The Northeast loves baseball. The Dodgers and Giants have big markets, but the real rivals for AL dominance are good NL teams from big markets in the Northeast. The best-rated NLCS of the last 10 years was between the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Francisco Giants in 2010. MLB wouldn’t mind if the Phillies (or the New York Mets) got there again someday.
3) Baseball is OK. There has been a fair amount of hand wringing about the fate of baseball recently, including by yours truly, but this year’s average audience for the two LCS is slightly up for baseball, from 6.25 million viewers to 6.35 million viewers. Two of the four teams were the same, and the two new ones were roughly comparable to their replacements as far as their fan base. The audience held steady.