Since my thoughts on the Rockies/D-backs series being bad for baseball were almost universally slammed, I have been in a more defensive crouch than a homophobe at a bath house. I thought I was over the topic, but the TV sports media critic at USA Today, Michael Hiestand had an article that summed up what I was afraid was going to happen in the NLCS.
Let’s unwrap. TBS’ first-ever coverage of the playoffs produced the four lowest ratings ever for prime-time League Championship Series games. Its games averaged 2.8% of U.S. TV households for the Colorado Rockies sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Championship Series.
Consider what else is in that ratings ballpark: In college football, ESPN’s most recent coverage of the Emerald Bowl drew 3.7%, its Chick-Fil-A Bowl 4%. In golf, CBS’ final-round telecast of the Nissan Open, Wachovia Championship and Bridgestone Invitational each drew 3.4%. And baseball this year got better ratings with ESPN’s Home Run Derby (4.3%) and ABC’s Little League World Series final (3.3%).
Hiestand breaks down a lot more of the particulars in his piece, which I recommend reading in full. Here was his final conclusion.
And while TBS’ production was uneven, it wasn’t so bad it drove away viewers. At least not many.
So let’s just solve this riddle: Blame the teams.
They’re from small markets: Phoenix is the USA’s 12th-biggest TV market and Denver is No. 18.
Worse yet, even the hometown fans weren’t all that interested. TBS’ NLCS games averaged 26.4% of TV households in Denver and 13.6% in Phoenix. That’s down from last year’s New York Mets-St. Louis Cardinals NLCS, which drew 31.3% in St. Louis and 15.8% in New York, which has more than twice as many households as Phoenix and Denver combined.
And last year’s NLCS had more appeal in big cities. The markets in which it got its highest ratings (after St. Louis and New York) were No. 2 Los Angeles, No. 4 Chicago and No. 5 Philadelphia. TBS’ top cities, after Denver and Phoenix: No. 47 Memphis, No. 27 San Diego and No. 43 Las Vegas.
David Levy, president of Turner Sports, which has a seven-year MLB deal, agrees game times weren’t the problem — "it had nothing to do with times" — and cites one pivotal factor: "It was the teams."
If so, that suggests a troubling big picture for baseball. When a sports league is strong, like the NFL, its playoff matchups should automatically have national appeal and teams’ market sizes should be footnotes.
Still, Levy is optimistic in a sort of soul-of-corporate America manner: "From the get-go on this, we could not be happier!" At least on the record.
I realize this doesn’t prove my point that this series was bad for the overall game of baseball, but it’s hard to see what part of the NLCS was good for the game, except that a few young players on the Rockies received a little more attention. The Indians versus the Rockies will continue this virtual ratings boycott. I know, I know…it’s ESPN and Fox’s fault. I’m just bummed that I can’t talk about the games with anyone I know, as they are all watching football. Where is a Goliath when you need them?