Little-known fact: there are only two days a year when there are never games involving regular season or playoffs of one of America’s four major sports leagues, the NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB: the day before, and the day after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. If you’re having sports withdrawal tonight, though, there is a good substitute, the annual Home Run Derby, which airs at 8PM Eastern Time on ESPN on cable TV. Whether you’re in the home market for the Nationals who are hosting the All-Star game and the Derby, like nearby Bristol, Virginia, or a fan of the Cubs, who have two participants in the Derby, from Pocahontas, IL, you can see the action on Spectrum Cable TV.
Here are the participants:
- Jesus Aguilar of the Milwaukee Brewers
- Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals
- Max Muncy of the Los Angeles Dodgers
- Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros
- Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs
- Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves
- Rhys Hoskins of the Philadelphia Phillies
The Home Run Derby format is constantly changing, and this year they’re using a bracket format, with individuals going head to head in the first round to narrow it down to four for the semifinals, which further whittle it down to the final matchup.
In addition, if you’re looking to watch it in Spanish in Texas or anywhere else with a large Spanish speaking population, the Derby is available en Espanol on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, also available with Spectrum Cable TV packages.
Despite both having relatively mediocre seasons up to the All-Star Break, the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals are the top Major League Baseball draws when it comes to regional sports network cable TV ratings. The Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers round out the top five, with the Oakland A’s at the bottom of the charts.
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The Royals’ league-high 12.23 average rating is particularly impressive, up 2 percent from midseason last year even though the defending World Series champions were only two games over .500 on the field at the break. Last year, the Royals ended their championship season with a 12.33 average regular-season rating on FS Kansas City, marking the league’s highest local average rating since 2002.
The Cardinals’ average rating is down 13 percent compared with midseason last year, but that 8.05 rating is still the league’s second-highest mark.
SportsBusiness Journal reviewed data from all 30 MLB teams. At the season’s midpoint, exactly half the league (15 teams) had seen a local ratings increase. Not surprisingly, the teams with the best win-loss records were the ones posting the biggest increases on TV.
It should also be noted that while the average ratings are high in St. Louis and Kansas City, they are not the leaders in total viewers, as they are mid-market teams. For example, more total viewers tune into Yankees games, but it is a smaller percentage of available viewers.
Live broadcast rights for sporting events on cable television are still a big moneymaker. Even though its nationwide profile is lower than it’s ever been, falling well behind NFL football and NBA basketball in the professional sports conversation in the United States, the former National Pastime is still big in the towns with popular teams. The St. Louis Cardinals are the latest organization to capitalize on the money to be made on live game broadcasts, garnering a deal worth $1 billion over 15 years for rights for 150 games a year to be broadcast on Fox Sports Midwest.
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The contract will start in 2018, and the Cardinals’ rights fees will jump to to $50-55 million in the first year of the deal from $30-35 million in 2017, the final year in the previous deal with FS Midwest.
Roughly 150 games will be aired on the network with the new pact and, more importantly, the Cardinals will also be receiving a minority stake in the network going forward. The contract seems very similar, though it’s a shorter term, to the last local contract signed by an MLB team, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
While it seems absurd the amount of money being spent on live rights for local and regional cable television broadcasts, the St. Louis area is loyal to its Cardinals, and live sports is really the only area on television that is DVR-proof. Likely, many cable customers would cut the cord if it were not for national sports broadcasts on channels like ESPN and local and regional ones on channels like Fox Sports Midwest.
The first couple of days of the Major League Baseball season are in the books, and so far the cable TV ratings for sports giant ESPN, for whom Sunday Night Baseball is one of their prime draws, are a mixed bag. Nationally, the opening night game and the following nights were down from previous years, but in local markets the games did very well.
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The Rangers-Astros opener on Sunday night drew a 1.5 overnight, down 17% from both 2011 (Giants-Dodgers) and 2012 (Marlins-Cardinals), which both drew a 1.8. The 2.3 million viewers the game drew was flat with 2011 (2.3 million viewers) and nearly flat with 2012 (2.4 mllion viewers). Oddly, both of those games came on weeknights, compared to the Sunday night matchup this year, which isn’t a good sign for MLB. However, the lack of the defending World Champion in the game likely also played a huge role in the decline, and the relatively non-descript offseasons that the Rangers and (especially) the Astros had probably didn’t help matters at all.
Monday was a different story though, as the four games aired by ESPN averaged a 0.7 and 961,000 viewers, up 45% in ratings from a year ago and 51% in viewership from four games (though over a two game period) last year. The 1 PM Red Sox-Yankees game led the way with a 0.8 overnight and 1.1 million viewers, up 72% in ratings and 87% in viewership from a Red Sox-Tigers matchup from 2012. The 4 PM Giants-Dodgers game picked up a 0.7 and 963,000 viewers, up 69% in ratings and 68% in viewership from Marlins-Reds last year.
ESPN2 aired the Phillies and Braves at 7 PM, and that game had a 0.7 and 1.0 million viewers, up 49% in ratings and 48% in viewership from Giants-Diamondbacks last year. The Cardinals-Diamondbacks game that closed the night out was essentially flat from 2012’s Royals-Angels game.
Locally, some of Monday’s games did huge numbers. The Phillies-Braves matchup drew an 11.5 rating on WPHL in Philadelphia, the highest-rated Phillies Opening Day since 1996. In Atlanta, Fox Sports South drew an 8.9 for the game, the highest rated Opening Day ever on FSS and the highest locally-rated Braves game since 2000. The Tigers’ opener with the Twins drew a non-simulcast Opening Day record 11.1 on Fox Sports Detroit. The Nationals (4.8) and White Sox (3.4) each set Opening Day ratings records on MASN and CSN Chicago, respectively. But the real local winner of the day was the Cincinnati Reds and Fox Sports Ohio, which drew a monstrous 23.5 rating for their opener with the Angels, the highest ever for a Reds Opening Day.
Much of Major League Baseball’s monetary revenue comes from television packages, and if ESPN doesn’t bring the ratings, you could see the Worldwide Leader dropping the sport entirely, which would be bad news for cable TV subscribers who are also baseball fans.
Before Sunday’s clinching game, when the San Francisco Giants closed out the World Series in sweeping the Detroit Tigers four games to none to win their second title in three years, this World Series had been the lowest-rated ever, according to USA Today. Final numbers for the last game are not yet calculated, but seeing as it was going up against Sunday Night Football on NBC, normally the most highly-watched program of the week, things are not looking good for what was once America’s pastime.
This is not a new trend. The past seven years have brought the seven lowest-rated World Series; even so, MLB TV rights have been secured for the next eight years with Fox for broadcast television and TBS and ESPN on cable TV. Some are presupposing that the low ratings are due to the lack of a major moneymaker franchise in the mix, like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox or Chicago Cubs, but the series does not lack in star power; the likely MVPs for each league, San Francisco’s catcher Buster Posey and Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera were both present in this series, as well as American League Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander. The ratings would likely have been higher had the Yankees or Sox been involved, but it’s more of an indication of a complete shift in sports loyalty by many Americans: football is now the favorite sport to watch in America, bar none.
Why has football taken over? Fantasy football and gambling are the major reasons, but also there are only 16 games a year per team, compared to 162 for baseball, allowing each game to be presented as an event. By the time the World Series rolls around, many sports fans have baseball fatigue; and if your team’s not in, why continue to watch, especially when football’s on?
According to Sports Business Daily, ESPN has re-upped with Major League Baseball, giving the Worldwide Leader and its family of networks MLB cable TV rights into the next decade with an eight-year extension to the current deal. The deal is worth $5.6 billion, for an average of about $700 million per year, which more than doubles the $306 million ESPN currently pays MLB every year for cable TV baseball broadcast rights. The only additional benefits of the deal are additions in digital rights, international rights, and radio rights. The deal gives ESPN continued exclusive rights for Sunday Night Baseball (meaning no other games can air at that time slot), as well as Monday and Wednesday night games that will not be blacked out in local markets, as they have been in past deals. The deal also ensures highlight packages for the networks’ Baseball Tonight program.
ESPN will also carry one Wild Card playoff game; in the current deal, ESPN does not have the rights for any MLB playoff games. There is no word if any of ESPN’s games will be aired on ABC (as they are part of the same Disney parent company).
The fact that ESPN was willing to more than double the value of its previous deal shows how important live sports broadcasts are to the continued success of cable TV networks. NBC Sports Network was attempting to poach some of the MLB broadcast rights away from ESPN in order to shore up its own brand, but ESPN has maintained the rights. Now with control of MLB, NFL’s Monday Night Football, and a good half of the NBA regular season and playoffs (shared with TNT), ESPN controls the cable TV broadcasting for three of the four major team sports in America. Any other network looking to dethrone the Worldwide Leader will have to compete in some other way; that had to be the reason for ESPN spending all of that money.