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.
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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.