Monday, August 3, 2020

TV Ratings: MLB Has Strong First Week

The start of the Major League Baseball season, which came more than 100 days later than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic, drew significantly higher TV ratings than it did last year, a boon for sports networks that have had very little live content to run for months, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Games that aired on national TV during the opening weekend—July 23 to 26—had more than twice as many viewers as a year ago, according to data from the MLB Network. Walt Disney Co. ’s ESPN said the first 12 games it aired through late Thursday averaged 1.16 million viewers, up 34% from last year. Fox Corp.’s Fox Sports also saw a double-digit rise in ratings.

ESPN said the league’s season opener on July 23 between the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals—which was played in an empty stadium, with infectious-diseases expert Anthony Fauci throwing a much-discussed opening pitch—had four million viewers, making it the most-watched regular-season game since 2011 on any network.

Wall Street Journal graphic
One reason baseball games drew such strong ratings is that they had very little competition from other major U.S. sports leagues, Mr. Mulvihill said. Traditionally the baseball season begins when the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League are in the final stretch of the regular season ahead of the playoffs. Baseball also attracted younger viewers than usual as a result, Mr. Mulvihill said. The NBA restarted its season on July 30 and the NHL on Aug. 1.

Fan enthusiasm comes against the backdrop of the continued spread of the virus among baseball players, which threatens the MLB season.

Nearly two-thirds of the Miami Marlins’ roster has tested positive, a surge that has already resulted in 14 postponed games involving six East Coast teams.

The Philadelphia Phillies, who played the Marlins last weekend, have reported no positive cases except for a coach and clubhouse attendant. The Phillies haven’t taken the field since Sunday as a precautionary measure. On Saturday, the St. Louis Cardinals organization reported four new positive coronavirus tests, people familiar with the matter said.

On Friday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred indicated on a call with Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark that the season was in danger of collapsing if the sport couldn’t control the virus.

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