MLB TV ratings drop, A’s stay steady

Sports Business Journal reported earlier in the week that MLB’s ratings slipped compared to last year. The hit was taken for both national and local broadcasts. Some of this can be attributed to the Yankees’ on-field performance. Typically, they’re a massive ratings grabber that pulls the league’s weight, but as it became clear they wouldn’t surpass either the upstart Rays or the World Champ Red Sox, ratings plummeted. Surprisingly, the Red Sox had an even bigger percentage drop than the Yankees despite their success (are Red Sox fans getting spoiled?).

A look into all of the local ratings for 2008 (courtesy Sports Business Journal) shows some interesting market characteristics.

Here in the Bay Area the Giants took a big dump, as was expected with their first post-Bonds lineup. The A’s, who came off a disappointing 2007 season and went into full rebuilding mode, didn’t show a significant ratings drop and generally held onto their audience. That’s good news, as it indicates there may be a baseline from which the A’s TV audience can be built – especially on a different network that features them more prominently.

The table also shows which markets are “baseball towns” as opposed to “football towns.” Midwestern markets with the exception of the two Ohio teams and Kansas City pulled in ratings of 6 or 7. Three of the four AL West teams don’t do great within their own markets, whereas Seattle holds up fairly well. And the combined Washington-Baltimore market is absolutely pitiful. MLB and the O’s have to be looking long term with MASN, because they’re severely overpaying the Nats for TV rights.

Going back to the baseline, the A’s respective numbers (1.7 rating/42,000 households) set a bar that other cities would have to significantly clear in order to attract the A’s. Let’s see how these numbers hold up against three would-be out-of-state candidates. First, a comparison of the Bay Area to the three candidates in terms of Nielsen market size:

  • Bay Area (#6 in nation): 2,476,450 households
  • Sacramento (#20): 1,399,520
  • Portland (#23): 1,175,100
  • Las Vegas (#42): 728,410

That puts the Bay Area as 77% larger than Sacramento, over twice as large as Portland, and over three times the size of Vegas. So for those three to match the A’s rather lackluster ratings in the Bay Area (each rating point here equals 24,400 households), they’d have to hit the following local numbers:

  • Sacramento: 3.0
  • Portland: 3.6
  • Las Vegas: 5.8

Sacramento’s target would be the easiest of the three to reach, but their lack of corporate dollars and their own difficult economic status would drive the ratings requirement higher. The Northern California/Nevada television region, which is shared by the Giants and A’s, would also likely be redrawn to divide it between the Bay Area, Central and North Coast (Giants) and the Central Valley (A’s). The net result would diminish the market size for both teams. Portland isn’t as hard hit economically as Sacramento, but their bar isn’t exactly low as they’d have to approach a 4 to make it worthwhile, a number that would make it second to Seattle among West Coast teams. As for Vegas, fuhgetaboutit.

This is a good sign for the A’s as we await an announcement about their television future. I don’t expect the A’s to surpass the Giants anytime soon. The Giants are sinking back to earth after repeatedly doubling the A’s ratings in their Bonds period. If the A’s ratings can consistently stay above 2 (or roughly 50,000 households), they’ll be in pretty good shape for the foreseeable future, even with the economic crisis we are currently muddling through.

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