There is an ongoing debate â€“ daily it seems â€“ as to whether MLBâ€™s national broadcast partners are doing fans a disservice by showing a constant stream of Yankee-Red Sox games each season. The conversation goes that itâ€™s the league that is driving this narrow scope across the league. But, the reasoning is simple: fans continue to watch in large numbers when those games are aired.
Case in point, the games this past week between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for first place in the American League East generated strong viewership numbers for FOX, ESPN and MLB Network.
Saturdayâ€™s FOX broadcast was the most watched non-prime regular season MLB telecast on the Network in more than three years with 4.10 million average viewers. Most of the country saw Yankees vs. Red Sox while parts of the country watched last yearâ€™s NLCS participants, Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants, square off. The last FOX non-prime regular season telecast to record higher numbers featured Boston and New York and the Cubs vs. St. Louis on July 5, 2008. For the season to date, FOX Saturday Baseball is averaging 2.97 million viewers, which is +5% versus last yearâ€™s 2.83 million viewers after 19 weeks.
ESPNâ€™s Sunday night telecast of the Red Sox vs. Yankees was the most watched ESPN baseball game in more than four years with 4.72 million average viewers. The last time ESPN attracted a larger audience for baseball was for the Yankees vs. Red Sox on June 3, 2007 with 5.30 million average viewers. For the season, ESPNâ€™s nationally exclusive telecasts are averaging 2.53 million viewers, which is +9% versus last yearâ€™s 2.32 million viewers after 19 weeks.
MLB Networkâ€™s Friday night telecast of the first game of the Yankees at Red Sox series was the networkâ€™s highest-rated game of 2011, averaging 563,000 viewers, second only to MLB Networkâ€™s telecast of Stephen Strasburgâ€™s MLB debut in 2010 as its most-watched game ever. The telecast helped deliver MLB Networkâ€™s highest primetime audience ever and a 25th consecutive week of viewership growth since pitchers and catchers reported. The Yankees at Red Sox telecast on MLB Network was blacked out in the Boston and New York home television territories.
How will the networks change their ways? Simple. When ratings and viewership for NYY-BOS games declines and some other match-up somehow supplants them. That may still be a ways off, given the numbers released.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, and is a contributor to Forbes SportsMoney blog.. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).
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