As the 2007 baseball season starts to come to an end, there are the usual story lines that have recently cropped up to follow… The Yankees, all but written off at the beginning of the season, are, yet again, storming toward the playoffs. Attendance continues to climb, regardless of how many possibly scandalous stories involving players using performance-enhancing drugs hit the media. The Pirates and Orioles continue their swoon, and new ballparks continue to sprout up.
What you may not know is that this year, unlike some years prior, more and more people are watching games on television.
Totaling up the tight pennant races, and the seemingly insatiable appetite for fans turning out for games at the ballpark is certainly a big reason to point to MLB’s increased popularity. But, a report by the Sports Business Journal points out that a shift in certain aspects of MLB’s most recent television contracts have helped make viewing games more appealing, according to television execs. As reported by the SBJ, “Fox expanded its Saturday ‘Game of the Week’ coverage from 18 weeks to 26 weeks this year and shifted the start time for each of those games from 1 p.m. ET to 3:55 p.m. ET. ESPN, meanwhile, decreased the number of daytime games it aired and benefited from a rule change that allows the network to use each club a maximum of five times for the Sunday night games, up from four.”
The changes bode well for the networks. Fox Sports President Ed Goren said the 44 percent increase in the network’s baseball schedule has created a 40 percent bump in revenue, due to increased ad inventory.
All this is dovetailing into the post-season for the networks. SBJ reports that Fox has sold 85 percent of their ad space for the postseason. With the demand, “that translates to between $190,000 and $210,000 for 30-second spots for the League Championship Series and $390,000 to $425,000 in the World Series.”
At the regional and local level, there have been jumps in viewership, as well.
Clubs are feeling the green, with 21 of the 29 clubs seeing increases compared to the year prior, with one club’s ratings (Angels) remaining flat.
As of the first week in September, the 16 clubs that broadcast on FSN owned-and-operated RSNs are seeing a 6.6 percent increase from the their collective average from last season. There are exceptions. The White Sox are seeing ratings drop through the floor on Comcast SportsNet Chicago, where ratings are 56 percent lower than last season due to a poor showing in the standings. Others dropping include the Rangers (-23%), Pirates (-17%), and Cardinals (-12%). The Braves see a drop of 30 when they were on FSN South, as well as a 20 percent decline on SportsSouth. In an odd twist, nationally televised Braves games on TBS saw an increase of 17 percent compared to last season.
That covers the downside. On the upside, the numbers are impressive.
The Brewers on FSN North are seeing a staggering 133 percent increase from the year prior. Others on the upswing from the year prior include the Indians (+45%), Cubs (+30%), Dodgers (+23%), Mariners (+44%), and Athletics (+20%). The Nationals see growth, mostly due to an increase in total televisions that MASN was able to gain access to. They see an increase of 60 percent from the year prior. Even the Marlins, who have had some of the most embarrassingly low attendance figures in recent memory for some games this season have seen an increase of 8 percent.
The big questions are yet to be answered… Will MLB see compelling match-ups in the postseason, and will Mother Nature decide to forget raining on MLB’s parade, as it did last season with many games rained out. Even if there is a repeat, which MLB would surely love to avoid, the changes that have already occurred place the clubs well ahead of where they were last season.
Source: The Sports Business Journal
Maury Brown is the founder and president of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football and The Biz of Basketball (The Biz of Hockey will be launching shortly). He is also a contributor to Baseball Prospectus.
He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted here.