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The Houston Astros Are Back Again in The World Series, Meeting Surprise Pennant Winner Philadelphia Phillies — What TV Ratings Are Expected?

Media observers predict how many will watch this Fall Classic featuring teams with an uncertain national reach but hailing from two major markets

The final week of this memorable Major League Baseball season commences this Friday, Oct. 28 with Game 1 of the World Series. It was a year chock full of big moments, from Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge surpassing Roger Maris’ legendary single-season American League home run mark to future Hall of Fame Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols rediscovering his youth and storming past the 700 career home run threshold, and then, to the N.L. East division title decided on the season’s final weekend where the two rivals Mets and Braves faced off in Atlanta.

Despite a 12-percent year-to-year slide for baseball on the Fox broadcast network (2.11 million in ’22, vs. 2.4 million in ’21 — info compiled by Sports Media Watch), other outlets experienced growth including ESPN (+1 percent), TBS (+24 percent) and several regional sports networks around the country like Yankees’ YES Network (its most-watched season since 2011) and Rangers’ Bally Sports Southwest, significantly up double-digits despite the team’s underwhelming play — a reflection of their active offseason last winter

This was also the first season MLB extended its streaming footprint by airing games weekly on Apple TV, Peacock and in the New York metro area for twenty-one Yankees games, Amazon Prime. While no viewership data had been released for any of those services, its audiences are presumed to be younger compared to linear and over-the-air platforms — the targeted crowds MLB (and any other sports or entertainment entity) are seeking to attract.

While we’ll remember 2022 for its many historic moments, it’s simple to forget the very fate of the season was in flux back in March, thanks to the winter-long owners’ lockout. But coming out of that owners-players dispute (along with the start of new TV deals) was the expansion of its postseason from ten teams to twelve. Disney-owned ESPN, home of “Sunday Night Baseball”, was the beneficiary of the new playoff system going from airing only one sole winner-take-all Wild Card game per year to four best-2-of-3 Wild Card series.

The nine Wild Card round games this year averaged 2.8 million viewers per minute. That’s up big from the 1.7-million average of the 2020 first-round format (similar to the current setup). But it was far less than the many single Wild Card games in previous years which drew north of 6 million apiece, as evidenced by those involving either of the New York baseball teams including 2021’s Yankees-Red Sox October playoff contest (7.7 million). No surprise that in this past month, the New York Mets’ three-game series versus the eventually victorious San Diego Padres was the most-watched of all four Wild Card matchups; the deciding Game 3 of Padres-Mets (3.96 million) led that group.

The Division Series averaged 3.45 million viewers — baseball’s best figure for that round in five years. Roughly five million viewers checked out both League Championship Series — way up from the pandemic-affected ’20, and on-par with LCS rounds from ’19 and ’21.

Nonetheless, it remains to be seen if these increases will translate into positive Fall Classic numbers. After all, the nation’s top two markets had a vested interest in these playoffs with the participation of the Yankees, Mets and Dodgers — all three of those teams eliminated prior to the World Series.

Houston is also a top-ten market in the nation, and home to its Astros, the current gold standard of baseball organizations. They’re built an impressive playoff resume in recent Octobers, appearing in six consecutive ALCS, resulting in four World Series berths and one world championship (thus far). And, their four-game sweep of the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series was the most-watched series of the postseason (at about 5.2 million).

The Astros are beloved in its Houston hometown; an example of that is, by mid-July, they were up 8 percent in households on local network AT&T SportsNet Southwest (as reported by Forbes’ Maury Brown).

Of course, they’re also despised most elsewhere, thanks to its 2017 sign-stealing cheating scandal.

Has Houston risen to the level of being a premier team one must watch to either love or love to hate? The New England Patriots of the NFL went through similar infamous circumstances — a long run of great seasons beset by cheating scandals during their championship success. But it being the league in this football-obsessed nation made the Patriots a main draw, becoming a must-see villain especially during their Tom Brady years. For most of the past two decades, New England was scheduled in to many marquee time slots by the networks. The same cannot be stated for MLB’s Astros. ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” averaged 1.5 million viewers; Astros’ lone SNB slot came on June 19 vs. the Chicago White Sox — that game drew 1.1 million viewers.

The Phillies, hailing from another top-ten TV market, share some ratings similarities with their World Series opponent Astros. Philadelphia also achieved 1.1 million for its top regular-season ESPN game of 2022, way back on Apr. 20 (vs. Milwaukee). On its regional sports network NBC Sports Philadelphia, the Phillies were up 25 percent from its previous year (thru mid-July) despite a mediocre first-half of its season. And, the Phillies and Astros were part of Fox’s fourth-best baseball date of the season, from Saturday, Aug. 20. That edition of “Baseball Night in America” drew an above-average 2.6 million viewers. However, the Phillies’ opponent that night were their N.L. East rival New York Mets — a matchup seen by most of the country; in other markets, Fox stations aired the Astros versus defending world champion Atlanta Braves. It’s most likely the New York area provided that extra boost in viewership.

That same New York boost also contributed to this year’s ALCS number with the Yankees involved. Audience figures decelerated as the series progressed, as the Astros’ dominance over the Yankees became apparent — well above five million for Games 1 and 2; below five million for Games 3 and 4.

And lastly, what Philadelphia and Houston also dubiously shared: almost all of their playoff games were relegated to daytime hours, its early round games hovered in the 2.5-3.5 million viewer range, below the aforementioned playoff round averages.

In the case of this year’s Phillies, it was an understandable decision by the league and its TV partners to not air them in most prime slots. The Phillies would not have qualified for the playoffs, if not for its expansion. They were a middling team throughout the months of April and May which led to the firing of manager Joe Girardi. Then, their fuse got lit, going 65-46 the rest of the way under interim manager Rob Thomson (like Girardi, another former Yankees staffer). Philadelphia, having broken their 11-year playoff drought, has lost just two of the eleven games played this postseason, led by the extraordinary hitting prowess of superstar Bryce Harper — a guy who had been previously viewed as a playoff under-performer while with the Nationals; a view made even more glaring in 2019 (the first year of his 13-year/$330 million contract with Philadelphia) when Washington won a World Series without him.

Harper’s 18 hits these playoffs, including the NLCS–clinching 2-run home run in Game 5 vs. the San Diego Padres, leads all players; and, based on research by TruMedia Sports, since 2008, Harper has achieved the highest batting average (.419) and on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) percentage (1.351) among all 339 players that had at least 40 plate appearances in a single postseason.

Only one other team has been hotter than the Phillies: the Astros, of course. They’ve not yet lost a playoff game. What might stymie the Phillie bats of Harper and company could be Houston’s premier pitching. They’ve already well handled some of the league’s best hitters, including presumed American League rookie of the year Julio Rodriguez in the Division Series (4-for-16, .250), and presumed American League MVP/newest A.L. single-season home run record holder Aaron Judge in the League Championship Series (a dismal 1-for-16, .063).

The Astros’ current streak is made more impressive considering their biggest star, second baseman Jose Altuve, has been a huge bust at the plate thus far: a mere 3-for-32 (.094) with three walks. Even Yordan Alvarez, arguably their best overall hitter this season and whose walk-off 3-run home run won ALDS Game 1 for Houston over Seattle, has been somewhat mortal this October by hitting 7-for-29 (.241) with four walks.

If the Astros do win this year’s World Series, it will finally earn manager Dusty Baker (perhaps, the team’s only generally well-liked member) a world championship ring — the very first of his long, storied career in baseball that spans six decades.

Douglas Pucci’s take: The presence of Baker and Harper might be enough for baseball’s fervent fans to watch this World Series. Fox, the broadcast network for the World Series, will also be pleased that teams from two well-sized markets are involved. But the scant appearances of the Astros and Phillies in marquee windows this past season limited their general exposure to a nationwide audience. 12.2 million saw last year’s Braves-Astros Fall Classic on all Fox platforms. This year, Astros-Phillies — likely, a short series with Houston winning in five games — will be down but not by much: 11.1 million viewers.

I inquired with professionals in the media industry to provide their ratings prognostications for the 2022 MLB World Series. Here is their analysis — you may also observe their guesses in numerical order:

Marc Berman, Editor-in-Chief of Programming Insider

10.8 million

Given the ongoing erosion in this era of “Peak TV”, I do not assume the audience tally will go up from last year (particularly without a New York team in the mix).

Jon Lewis, Sports Media Watch

If it’s a short series, I’ll go with 11.3 million (lack of Sunday game will be a factor). 12.5M for six games, 14.0M if it goes seven. Good numbers by today’s standards for what is a big market matchup.

Daniel Kaplan, sports business reporter at The Athletic

While Houston and Philadelphia are big markets, this is not a matchup that will attract a great many eyeballs. Also there is the factor of Astros fatigue. The best hope here is for a long Series. I would be surprised if the viewership is above an average of 10 million.

Phillip Swann, TV Answer Man

9 million – Bryce Harper’s marketing star has waned and the Astros are still reviled everywhere outside Houston.

Dave Bauder, Associated Press

11.6 million. Typical broadcast erosion. Plus I think people may be tiring of the Astros and my guess is it could be a short series, thus not building viewership momentum.

Ian Casselberry, Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media

Guessing 13 million. The Astros are the villain to root against and the Phillies have a marquee star in Bryce Harper who’s providing big moments.

Jay Posner, sports editor of San Diego Union-Tribune

This will be a short series so viewership won’t have a chance to build. I’ll say 10.4 million.

Bill Shea, senior writer at The Athletic

13 million.
While a Yankees-Dodgers Fall Classic is ideal in terms of likely raw eyeball totals, it’s not like Houston and Philadelphia are remote outposts; they should attract at least as much as last year but it’s unclear how much cord-cutting and other external factors could affect the final total (atop in-game aspects such as series length, close scores, network storyline development, etc.,)

Also: read “Is the World Series still relevant in an NFL world?” by Richard Deitsch and Bill Shea at The Athletic

Neil Best, Newsday sports columnist

15.03 million
Phillies’ dramatic seven-game upset of Astros will capture people’s attention and give World Series viewership a welcome boost!

Ryan Glasspiegel, New York Post sports/entertainment reporter

12.3 million

Given the Astros are a constant, the combo of the Philadelphia crowd being an insanely great visual plus Bryce Harper, who is among the sport’s most recognizable stars, will lift viewership to a slight bump over last year.

Rich Greenfield, Media and Technology Analyst at LightShed Partners

13 million — Excitement for Phillies return to the fall classic.

Jimmy Traina, writer at Sports Illustrated and host of SI Media Podcast

I’ll go with 11.9 million. Unfortunately for MLB, whatever bump it would’ve gotten by having Philadelphia in the WS as opposed to Atlanta last year will be wiped out by the series opening on a Friday and Saturday night after opening on a Tuesday and Wednesday in 2021.

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

11.9 million. I think the ratings for this World Series will mirror last season to a degree. The longer that series goes, the better for Fox.

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

The series will average around 14 million and push 16/17 if it goes 7 games. Two high-profile teams with star power from big markets and no Sunday game going up against the NFL. This series has the elements MLB needs to put up a good number.

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

12.9 million
I believe it will have similar numbers to 2021.  However, since it is Philadelphia and a team that hasn’t been in a World Series for awhile, I think the number will be slightly higher than 2021.

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

12.4 million
Assuming six games, this year’s World Series will see an uptick in viewership from 2021. Houston is a constant, so given Philadelphia is a larger market than Atlanta and it’s been 13 years since the Phillies have participated, local interest will be high, resulting in a slight improvement overall.

Timothy Burke, President at Burke Communications

10 million. I think there is Astros fatigue, and while Philadelphia is certainly a big market I am going with what I would almost certainly have thought made no difference at all but now believe does: the absence of Joe Buck will turn away casual fans

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

12 million: The networks that air major sports championships for the NBA, the NHL and MLB root for one thing: length. That’s often the differentiator for a series unless there are truly compelling storylines or figures that bring in a national audience. I think this will be a short series — and thus my prediction.

Also: read “Is the World Series still relevant in an NFL world?” by Richard Deitsch and Bill Shea at The Athletic

Michael McCarthy, Senior Writer at Front Office Sports

11.5 million. Phillies are a great story from a big TV market. But Astros are still despised for their sign-stealing cheating scandal. Some fan will tune out another Astros World Series.

Maury Brown, Forbes

10.7 million.

This is the fourth time in the past six years that the Astros have been in the Fall Classic, and that’s going to bring some apathy. Throw in that they have yet to lose a game in the postseason and the possibility of a short series is in the mix. The Phillies help bring some east coast flavor to the audience which helps but ultimately doesn’t move the needle enough to get numbers higher than last year.

David Barron, Houston Chronicle sports media columnist

14.7 million. Astros are a compellingly divisive drawing card, and the Phillies will draw the Upper Right Coast crowd.

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

15.2 Million

There’s palpable juice about the Phillies being in the World Series, plus they have a huge passionate fan base that will religiously watch every single inning

Houston’s fan base and the region isn’t tired of being the World Series, so this makes for a really good matchup that should net the best ratings since 2017

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

16 million… I think these teams bring in some audience. The Phillies are a fun team and have the big names on their roster, the Astros certainly bring about feelings from fans across the country… if it’s competitive and the games are fun I could see people really getting into it.

Joe Mauceri, WPIX-TV sports anchor and co-host of “NY Sports Nation”

With Philadelphia and Houston invested in the series I think this will be a big TV audience. I’m going with an average of 19 million.

Robert Wright, accountant / University of Houston grad / diehard Houston sports fan

12.5 million. It’s not gonna be much better than last year. Philly will be a bit stronger market than Atlanta but I don’t expect a Game 6 nor 7.

Terence Henderson, T Dog Media

I’m not sure if there’s a lot of interest even though Houston and Philadelphia are top-ten markets – but the Phillies’ Bryce Harper could draw a crowd. I’ll predict 11.8 million viewers with the Astros winning in six.

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

13.5 million. Lots of interest with two teams filled with stars that have both breezed through the playoffs through this point.

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

Name Viewers
(in millions)
Phillip Swann 9.0
Daniel Kaplan 10.0
Timothy Burke 10.0
Jay Posner 10.4
Maury Brown 10.7
Marc Bermsn 10.8
Douglas Pucci 11.1
Jon Lewis 11.3 (12.5, if G6: 14.0, if G7)
Michael McCarthy 11.5
Dave Bauder 11.6
Terence Henderson 11.8
Jimmy Traina 11.9
Jason Jacobs 11.9
Scott Nolte 11.9
Richard Deitsch 12.0
Ryan Glasspiegel 12.3
Lou D’Ermilio 12.4
Robert Wright 12.5
Ian Casselberry 13.0
Bill Shea 13.0
Rich Greenfield 13.0
Steve Kaplowitz 13.5
Michael Fliegelman 14.0 (16.0-17.0, if G7)
David Barron 14.7
Neil Best 15.03
Pat Boyle 15.2
Dan Serafin 16.0
Joe Mauceri 19.0