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2023 MLB World Series Ratings Preview: Can Even the Unlikeliest Fall Classic Matchup in Baseball History Draw a Significant TV Crowd?

It’s the Texas Rangers versus Arizona Diamondbacks in Major League Baseball’s 2023 World Series — just the matchup we all predicted would happen at the start of the season, right?

Back in March, prior to Opening Day, Draftkings Sportsbook gave Texas 45-1 odds to win it all, tied for 16th overall with the L.A. Angels. Arizona was even more of a long shot: 170-1, ranking 23rd out of 30 clubs.

BetMGM data analyst John Ewing said the preseason odds of a Diamondbacks-Rangers World Series were 1,750-1, meaning if you had bet $10, you would have won $17,500.

Even as recent as one week prior to this World Series, oddsmakers had least confidence in both Texas and Arizona making it as opposed to Houston and Philadelphia which was last year’s matchup in the Fall Classic.

Overlooking both these teams is well justified. Two years ago, the Diamondbacks tied the Baltimore Orioles (this year’s American League East division winners) for the league’s most losses that season with 110 games; the Rangers, with 102 losses, had the third-most.

Nonetheless, both Texas and Arizona experienced success to start this regular season, with each leading their respective league’s West divisions. Texas led the American League West for most of the year — an effect of recent key acquisitions and the hiring of eventual Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy — but, they landed in the runner-up spot to Houston on the final day of the regular season; Arizona topped the National League West back in April and then again in June, until they faded after July’s All-Star break. Yet, they landed the final National League Wild Card spot in September.

Texas’ 90 wins and Arizona’s 84 wins combine for 174 victories — the fewest ever among World Series participants in a full season. They are among six teams all-time to reach the World Series within two years of losing at least 100 games — a feat accomplished this year, assisted by the expanded playoff system, installed last year to feature six qualifying teams per league, up from five per.

A Facebook friend of mine who’s a longtime comedy writer had posted on Oct. 24, after Arizona defeated Philadelphia in Game 7 of the NLCS: “A World Series that nobody I know gives a rat’s [***] about!” A hilarious line and most casual watchers of baseball would probably agree.

However, it was the competitiveness of Texas and Arizona in their respective League Championship Series that propped up the sports’ recent ratings. Underwhelming regular seasons by the New York Yankees, New York Mets and Boston Red Sox stymied the viewership on ESPN and TBS, leading both those outlets to slight year-to-year declines. The absence of those three aforementioned teams in October also put a damper on the postseason: Wild Card series down 20 percent, Division Series down 8 percent. But with each LCS going the full boat (7 games), that round rose six percent from ’22, and lifted the overall postseason viewer average to 4 percent.

The 9+ million of Diamondbacks-Phillies Game 7 was baseball’s most-watched non-World Series playoff game since the “bubble” NLCS Game 7 of Braves-Dodgers from Oct. 2020. It also doubled the adults 18-49 delivery of the competing NBA opening game of Lakers-Nuggets; each MLB playoff game (Guardians-Yankees ALDS Game 5 and Padres-Phillies NLCS Game 1) failed to even top the NBA in the key demo on basketball’s season opener last October.

Another matchup that featured momentous preseason odds put on quite a show for the nation. Back in 1991, the Minnesota Twins (80-1) defeated the then-upstart Atlanta Braves (200-1) in that thrilling seven-game Fall Classic — its Game 7 was the last time MLB drew a TV audience of over 50 million viewers.

Arizona also shares another unique similarity with Minnesota: the 2023 Diamondbacks and the 1987 Twins (who went on to defeat St. Louis in seven games) are the only teams with negative run differentials in the regular season (meaning opponent teams had collectively outscored them) to appear in a World Series.

Also of importance was that 2023 was the first year MLB implemented rule changes to improve the pace of play. The installation of the pitch clock has shortened the overall lengths of games. The limiting of infield defensive shifts and pickoff throws, and the slight increase in the size of bases has heightened action upon the base paths. As a result, the quality of product has improved and has made the game more watchable.

Another potential driver for this series is what will be airing on other networks, as their interim and primarily non-scripted programming continues amidst Hollywood’s actor strike. There’ll be no original episodes of “FBI” nor “Chicago” franchise series airing opposite it. Those available audiences could look to turn to the World Series instead this week.

Douglas Pucci’s take: Texas-Arizona is far from being a must-see, on paper. The dominant, big-market stalwarts usually take center stage at this time of the year. Having two clubs relatively new to late October facing off is a unique occurrence – one that can intrigue the avid baseball fan, like myself.

After amassing great offensive numbers during the year, Texas’ Adolis Garcia raised his play to a higher level in the ALCS earning a postseason-record 15 runs batted in for a seven-game series and homered in four consecutive games (Games 4-7) versus Houston.

The projected National League Rookie of the Year, Corbin Carroll for Arizona, also shined in these playoffs. In NLCS Game 7, he became the second youngest player in history with three hits and two steals within the same postseason game; only Ty Cobb in 1908 was younger.

Sure, Garcia and Carroll are not yet household names. But baseball fans are currently in awe of them, and will delight seeing them compete on baseball’s biggest stage.

Specifically for us Yankee fans, we will be interested in watching Jordan Montgomery on the mound for Texas while still baffled that they had traded him to St. Louis in 2022. The Yankee organization believed him to not be worthy to start for them in the postseason. The Texas Rangers sure seem to be fine with him; he will be their starter for Game 2.

Just four months ago, another unlikely and seemingly underwhelming matchup occurred in a sports championship: the Denver Nuggets versus the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Granted, Denver has been ascending in recent seasons, and Miami had appeared in an NBA Finals just three years ago. But both teams are not the marquee franchises of the NBA and yet, the average audience was only slightly less than the 2022 Finals which featured more popular teams, the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics.

I’d expect this clash to be an extended one, for at least six games. Like Nuggets-Heat had performed, Rangers-Diamondbacks will come down from last year’s 12-million average of Astros-Phillies but not drastically so: 11.2 million viewers.

I inquired with professionals in the media industry to provide their ratings prognostications for the 2023 MLB World Series. Here is their analysis — you may also observe their guesses in numerical order:

Marc Berman, Editor-in-Chief of Programming Insider

12.4 million…Given the caliber of the teams, the logical assumption might be a smaller audience for The World Series this year. But with the SAG-AFTRA strike still going, the lack of original scripted product means the audience is hungry for new content. Sports is still very relevant. 

Jon Lewis, Sports Media Watch

I see this World Series being a bit like Nuggets-Heat in the NBA Finals. Will be historically low, but do not necessarily expect a huge decline in viewership from last year. I’m going with a six-game series down a relatively modest 10ish percent from last year. Prediction: 10.48M.

Jon Zaghloul, TV & radio host of “Sports Talk Chicago”

10.4 million; An intriguing series with a focus on the American Southwest should produce a respectable number, but will decrease from last year’s average.

Evan Boyd, OptaSTATS researcher

We have two medium markets with two Wild Card teams. I think some will find it interesting to have two teams that won a pennant for the first time in at least 10 years, while others might have little interest in these two teams. My guess is that it will be slightly lower than what we have seen in the past two years. I’ll say 11.5 million.

Bill Brioux, Brioux.TV

I’m going to guess 12.2M viewers for the third years in a row. Not having a team from New York or LA will keep viewership low. The on-going ramifications of the writers and actors strikes, however, means less first-run competition on other channels. 

Ryan Glasspiegel, New York Post sports/entertainment reporter

8.5 million – This is a challenging matchup based on how big the Diamondbacks and Rangers’ fan bases are, and how much they will resonate nationally.

Rich Greenfield, Media and Technology Analyst at LightShed Partners

12 million. Not a very compelling matchup and Phoenix is not a great market but improvements in baseball watchability should help ratings vs prior years

Timothy Burke, President at Burke Communications

11.7 million. My reasons why: the schedule is actually pretty advantageous with the exception of game 3, going up against MNF.

Dave Bauder, Associated Press

10.5 million.

Phillip Swann, TV Answer Man

The two teams lack the wow factor but live sports is still hot so I’ll go with 11 million, less than last year but not a disaster for Fox.

Michael McCarthy, Senior Writer at Front Office Sports

All in all, Fox and MLB would rather be in Philadelphia where Phillies stars like Bryce Harper would have attracted more casual viewers. WS viewership falls to 11.5M.

Lori Rubinson, WFAN sports radio talk show host

11.5 million. I think the matchup will continue a downward trend for the World Series – and this matchup lacks some juice.

Scott Nolte, Northwest Iowa Y100.1 FM (KUYY) deejay-sports announcer

10.8 million
The World Series will have someone besides Houston or L.A. for the first time since 2016.  However, these teams are not necessarily big markets so I feel that viewership might be down from previous years.

Lou D’Ermilio, LOUD Communications, former Senior Vice President of Fox Sports media relations

The 2023 World Series will average 12.4 million viewers per game. Coming in, both teams are hot and bring a freshness factor. I also expect this to be a long series with mostly competitive games, resulting in the most-watched World Series since 2019.

Daniel Kaplan, sports business reporter at The Athletic

This Series should test new lows with two great teams, but without national followings (i.e. they are not brand name teams). In the end this is a Series pitting a 90 win team against an 84 win team, I’d have to check but that has to be up there with an all time low for combined wins. I am predicting 10.5 million.

Barry Horn, former sports media columnist at Dallas Morning News

8.2 million, 5 games for ALCS champs- Texas Rangers.

Jason Clinkscales, NYC-based media analyst/editor/writer, regular contributor for Awful Announcing and Decider, former media research analyst

11.8 million across all platforms: Though this series features teams from two of the top 11 DMAs, Texas and Arizona dramatically underperformed on the field in recent seasons and neither team has the “big star” that could draw in fans from elsewhere. Yet the LCS round performed well enough with them and the lack of scripted content could lift the average slightly from 2022.

Maury Brown, Forbes

As always, getting to Game 6 or Game 7 really plays into the average numbers. But agnostic of that, while play should be great between these two teams that storylines and brands don’t bode well for a viewership win. Yes, the Rangers have never won a World Series. Yes, the Diamondbacks haven’t won it all since 2001, but fringe fans aren’t likely to flock to this one. I’ll peg the average at 10.2 million — higher than the 2020 pandemic bubble series, but lowest outside of that. Still… I expect a fantastic World Series.

Bill Shea, former senior writer at The Athletic

13.8 million average if it goes seven games.
12.1 million for a sweep.
13.2 million for a series that goes five or six games.
This isn’t the Fall Classic match-up of which network executives’ dreams are made, but my sense is live sports viewership remains healthy overall and this is a gem event that’ll win the key demos and overall audience each night, meaning no one is losing money or handing out make-goods.

Bob Thompson, Thompson Sports Group LLC, retired President of Fox Sports Networks and BTN co-founder

11.77m. Two unknown teams will result in viewing declines compared to last year.

Jeff Agrest, Chicago Sun-Times deputy sports editor and media columnist

10.9 million: The Diamondbacks don’t have drawing power, and though the Rangers have some big names, they don’t garner a lot of interest.

Richard Deitsch, sports media columnist at The Athletic and host of the Sports Media podcast

10.7 million
As a baseball series, I think it’s actually a fascinating matchup.
As a viewership prediction: I think the series will be short — and thus the least-watched WS outside of 2020.

David Barron, former Houston Chronicle sports media columnist

10 million. I think there will be some curiosity about two resurgent, unexpected teams, but I’m not optimistic about viewers tuning in night after night. Of course, with the Hollywood work stoppages and new program delays, some viewers may view a ball game as their best or only alternative.

Jake Kline, attorney/sports media observer, JohnWallStreet contributor

What Fox cares about most is series length – the more games, the more ad inventory. This postseason has been a mixed bag for broadcasters. All 4 Wild Card series were sweeps. Two of the four best-of-five Divisional Round series were also sweeps (the other two series only went four games). That trend stopped with the ALCS and NLCS, which both went the distance.

Also notable: this is the first time since 2017 the World Series does not feature at least one team from the eastern time zone.

Admittedly, neither team garners much national media attention. Fox execs will have their fingers crossed that Adolis García’s historic ALCS performance and each team’s underdog narrative (a 5-seed and a 6-seed) will pique the more casual fan’s interest. Realistically, what’s really going to draw people in is if the games are close.

Then there’s the competition to consider: it is clear MLB has made an effort in recent years to avoid going head-to-head against the NFL. The World Series will face off against the NFL just once: a Monday Night Football contest between the Raiders and the Lions. ABC’s simulcasting of MNF this year adds a new variable to the calculation, potentially siphoning off some Fox viewers.

It should be noted that due to writers’ and actors’ strikes there’s very little original programming on in primetime at the moment. As such, sports have been somewhat of a reprieve for linear television viewers. Problem is, linear television viewers continue to dwindle, so any migration from network reruns to World Series coverage is nominal. What could throw any prediction in disarray – the ‘known unknown’ – is a breaking news story that captures the nation’s attention. Given current domestic and world events, that scenario is not out of the question.

One final factor to weigh: while this World Series lacks brand recognition, the most recent NBA Finals likewise had smaller market teams but did not experience an enormous drop YoY. That being said, Jokić and Butler are fairly prominent sports figures.

Considering all this, a five- or six-game series seems likely to average 10.7-10.8M viewers.

Jason Jacobs, Northwest Iowa Campus Radio 103.9 (KUOO) sports announcer

11 million. Just don’t think these teams will draw as well as last year‘s teams, but it’ll be a competitive series.

Jason Romano, Director of Media and podcast host with Sports Spectrum; former ESPN producer

I’ll say 10.1 million — 6 games.

The two teams are not a big attraction. I think it’ll be a great series but there won’t be much fanfare. If it goes 7 games, then there’s a chance for a bigger number.

Steve Kaplowitz, afternoon sports talk radio host at 600 ESPN El Paso (Texas)

I think this series will finish with 10.6 million combined viewers. Not as many as the last few years but not as low as some people think. The Rangers and DBacks both have good postseason stories that baseball fans and casual sports fans will tune in to watch.

Ken Fang, Awful Announcing

With the World Series involving two relatively-unknown teams and players, Fox is going to introduce viewers to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers as best as it can.

Unless this goes seven games, viewership will drop below last year’s 12.02 million average on Fox, Fox Deportes and the Fox streaming platforms.

I’ll go with 10.08 million for the series.

Michael Fliegelman, WFAN (New York) sports radio producer/host

11.4 million. It will be down from last year’s number but not the catastrophe some think because of the matchup.

Andrew Marchand, New York Post sports media columnist and co-host of the Marchand & Ourand Sports Media Podcast

11.78 million.

I was wondering if they should even play the series with all I heard about the matchup’s implications for TV. I think they’ll be OK if the series goes six or seven.

Jay Posner, former sports editor of San Diego Union-Tribune

10.1 million. Series between two wild cards both west of the Mississippi narrowly avoids record low.

Dan Serafin, News 12 The Bronx/Brooklyn news & sports anchor

10 million viewers. I think we’ll see a drop from the last 2 years because of the teams involved, but I also think numbers will rise as a long and exciting series evolves between the teams.

Patrick Crakes, Crakes Media Consulting, former Senior Vice President of Fox Sports Senior Vice President Programming in Research & Content Strategy

Let’s go 11.5 million for six games.

Pat Boyle, WFAN & CBS Sports Radio producer/host and sports play-by-play announcer for Rutgers, Villanova and LIU

10.7 million. I don’t mind seeing a fringe playoff team in the World Series, but the ratings will unfortunately show it. This World Series will be a dud ratings wise.

Todd Radom, sports branding expert / designer / author

12 million. Less than some, more than many expected. Despite the lack of star power, this Series should be a compelling one with momentum building up as it gets to potential Games 6 or 7.

Terence Henderson, T Dog Media

On paper, a Texas Rangers-Arizona Diamondbacks matchup – two teams with hardly any national followings doesn’t look good, but if the games are exciting enough and go six or seven games, the World Series should draw respectable viewership. I’m going with 11.7 million viewers.

To recap, here are the predictions in sorted order (you may click on their name for their respective analyses)

Name Viewers
(in millions)
Bill Shea 13.2 (12.1 if sweep; 13.8 if 7 gms)
Marc Bermsn 12.4
Lou D’Ermilio 12.4
Bill Brioux 12.2
Rich Greenfield 12.0
Todd Radom 12.0
Jason Clinkscales 11.8
Andrew Marchand 11.78
Bob Thompson 11.77
Timothy Burke 11.7
Terence Henderson 11.7
Evan Boyd 11.5
Michael McCarthy 11.5
Lori Rubinson 11.5
Michael Fliegelman 11.4
Douglas Pucci 11.2
Phillip Swann 11.0
Jason Jacobs 11.0
Jeff Agrest 10.9
Scott Nolte 10.8
Jake Kline 10.7-10.8
Richard Deitsch 10.7
Pat Boyle 10.7
Steve Kaplowitz 10.6
Dave Bauder 10.5
Daniel Kaplan 10.5
Jon Lewis 10.48
Jon Zaghloul 10.4
Maury Brown 10.2
Jay Posner 10.1
Jason Romano 10.1
Ken Fang 10.08
David Barron 10.0
Dan Serafin 10.0
Ryan Glasspiegel 8.5
Barry Horn 8.2