The 29 U.S. clubs in Major League Baseball saw an increase in ratings for the 2023 season. Looking at other programming that saw declines shows baseball’s strength during the summer.
Based on ratings in the U.S. (the Toronto Blue Jays fall under a different system in Canada), the regional sports networks for MLB showed a +7% increase for the regular season that ended on Sunday, September 30. Out of those, 16 clubs showed gains, three were ostensibly flat, and 10 showed declines
(see the numbers of all 29 teams at the bottom of this article).
The biggest gain came from the Texas Rangers on Bally Sports Southwest. Fueled by record free agent spending over the last two years, the team increased a staggering 98.6% (1.41 for 2023 compared to 0.71 for 2022). And showing that while a spring surge faded when summer approached, the Pittsburgh market remained interested in the Pirates. Ratings on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh jumped 71.8% compared to 2022. Other big gains came by way of the AL East-winning Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds (both +65.2%).
The highest ratings came by way of the Philadelphia Phillies who saw a +29.8% increase from 2022 and posted a 5.49 rating in the market. And even with one of the worst seasons in recent memory that resulted in a -27.2% decline from 2022, the St. Louis Cardinals posted the second-highest rating (5.3).
As is the case every season, based on disappointing performance and high expectations entering the season, some clubs saw significant declines. The largest downturn came by way of the Chicago White Sox (-41.1%), Kansas City Royals (-30.1%), and the aforementioned Cardinals. In terms of the lowest-rated club, the Oakland A’s, who had a historically bad season, are applying to move to Las Vegas, and have created ill-will with the market posted a 0.36 rating in the San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose market. That was down -23.4% from 2022’s 0.47 rating.
A rating point is an audience measurement used in television. It represents the percentage of a base population watching a TV program. The base is a given target audience in a given TV region or area.
Importantly, the 2023 season saw how the bankruptcy of Diamond Sports Group (DSG), who runs the Bally Sports Network family of RSNs played into the season. Major League Baseball took over the media rights for the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks after the season was underway. MLB was able to ink significant television distribution deals and provide a direct-to-consumer model that when coupled together removed blackouts from the club broadcast territories. And while the Padres saw a decline in ratings, it was largely due to a lackluster season, while the Diamondbacks were one of the strongest gainers posting a +25% increase in ratings from 2022.
The issues with Diamond Sports Group are likely to continue as carriage renewals with Comcast
Craig Sloan, COO of Playfly Sports said that looking at Major League Baseball as a portfolio through Playfly’s relationship as a key partner for advertisers should cause any panic.
“I don’t have a concern,” Sloan said. “I do think that you’re talking about an evolution of where those rights will certainly become freed up. But the idea that there are multiple bidders at the table that didn’t look at the business the same way even just a couple of short years ago. It’s meaningful.”
The overall increase for the MLB RSNs comes at a significant tipping point for traditional linear television which now makes up less than half of the viewing audience. That makes it all the more impressive.
“I think the term I come up with for the performance is ‘immunity’,” added Sloan. “If you aren’t look at the RSNs in a vacuum but looking at what’s with sports media compared to entertainment media and news media, it shows that the consumption habits of viewers outside of sports show signs of wear and deterioration.”