Baseball was not meant to take place in 2020.
That had been the overwhelming thought the moment the pandemic put the sports world on pause in the middle of March. When would ANY sport return to action amidst heavy clouds of uncertainty at how the coronavirus would ravage our country, let alone the entire world?
South Korea, which had clamped down on practically everything immediately and instilled rigorous testing of its citizens, paved the way for its nation’s baseball to resume albeit sans fans in their stadiums
But the United States could not come close to effectively accomplishing that, right? The notion being our culture, our sense of exceptionalism would be major obstacles in achieving any semblance of returning to normalcy — something that even exists to this day, in some respect.
The spring turned into summer and an increasing amount people became aware of how to cope with COVID-19, especially on how to avoid contracting it. Slowly but surely, the UFC and golf were a thing again. Then, the NBA, the NHL and MLS devised new approaches at coming back by hosting various “bubbles”, areas restricted for only its athletes, teams’ personnel and select media participants to conduct sports activity.
Meanwhile for baseball, the early summer brought upon an old but longstanding sin back to the forefront: greed. The players and owners bickered at length, primarily at how much was being offered for the athletes to participate. But somehow, MLB found an agreement and moved forward with a shortened 60-game regular season. There’d be limited travel as the teams would play opponents solely from their own respective time zones.
Nonetheless, even more roadblocks were laid in MLB’s path. Canada, although home to the two NHL bubbles, banned the Blue Jays from playing in Toronto (preventing Americans from flying to and from that city), forcing the team to scramble to find a new temporary home and ultimately settling for Buffalo, NY. Then, coronavirus had struck several players across various teams but none more severely affected than the Miami Marlins whose majority of its roster were decimated for a long while.
The other sports were transpiring seamlessly but baseball appeared to be on the brink of collapse. They were just handling things on a whim. Perhaps going through with a season was them being in over their heads.
But somehow, they kept playing. MLB put in new features like a universal designated hitter for both leagues, a runner on second base for each team to start every half-inning in extra innings and 7-inning games for doubleheaders of which there’d be many due to the varied abrupt schedule changes. Once the regular season concluded, a new 16-team bracket-style postseason was implemented. Even the aforementioned disadvantaged Marlins accomplished a Division Series berth. And for the rest of the playoffs, semi-bubbles were installed in southern California (Los Angeles and San Diego) and Texas (Arlington and Houston).
It was a rocky road for Major League Baseball in 2020 but somehow, they made it to the World Series. Echoing baseball analyst Pedro Martinez’s message following the conclusion of TBS’s playoff coverage this year, a big thanks to the players for helping us fans forget about our current troubles for at least a little bit. The exciting play on the field was most evident during each League Championship Series which both went the full distance of seven games, and each league’s No. 1 seeds emerged on top: the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays.
The 2020 World Series, hosted entirely at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Tex. in front of a limited number of fans in the stands, begins Tuesday night on the Fox network. The Rays look to earn their first-ever world championship while the Dodgers, in their third World Series appearance in four years, are vying to win their first world title since 1988.
MLB seems to have great momentum heading into this Fall Classic, but the ratings for all sports within the past several weeks have not been kind. Amidst this pandemic, here are some year-to-year declines for recent sporting events (most of them having taken place in their non-traditional time periods), according to The Athletic: NBA Finals (49 percent), U.S. Open tennis (45 percent), U.S. Open golf (42 percent), Stanley Cup final (61 percent), Kentucky Derby (43 percent), college football (30 percent), and NFL season weeks 1-5 (10 percent). Even though the 2020 MLB Division Series occurred in its normal month of October, it only averaged 1.8 million viewers, off 33 percent from last year.
Like the recently concluded NBA Finals, the World Series features a Los Angeles squad playing a team from Florida at a neutral site. But unlike its basketball counterpart, no participant from either World Series roster could match the super-stardom of the Lakers’ LeBron James. If those Finals could only muster an average of 7.5 million viewers across six games with LeBron as its main focus, how could the Fall Classic do better? I do not see it. Dodgers-Rays is not a sexy matchup for the casual fan, even though both teams have exhibited many thrills and big moments throughout this postseason. There will be a 6.9 million viewer average here — decent for our current TV landscape but half as much as last year’s Nationals-Astros World Series. (Also, the Dodgers win it all in six games).
Other professionals and observers within the sports media industry weighed in on how this World Series would draw:
Jon Lewis, Sports Media Watch
World Series ratings seem destined to hit a record-low. The current mark is a 7.6 and 12.66 million for Giants-Tigers in 2012, which seems rather high in this environment. Especially with no NFL lead-in for a potential Game 5, it will be hard for this non-traditional matchup to buck the industry-wide trend of historic lows that has sunk everything from the NBA and NHL to the Kentucky Derby.
I’ll go with a 6.2 and 11.3 million for a seven-game series — pretty solid by 2020 standards, but still record-lows.
Maury Brown, Forbes
With overall television consumption down, I will say that it will hover around 14 million if it gets to at least Game 6. I don’t see this number as bad against the backdrop of the pandemic. If it’s 4-5 games it could be around the 2014 viewership level.
Lou D’Ermilio, LOUD Communications, former Senior Vice President of Fox Sports media relations
The World Series benefits from most other championships this year in that it will be contested in its traditional seasonal window, but unfortunately, that won’t save it from being negatively impacted by all that is 2020. I’m predicting an average audience of 10.7 million for a six-game series, a 35% decline from the Dodgers’ last two World Series appearances (2017 & 2018). I was too optimistic in my prediction about the 2020 NBA Finals. Not again.
Patrick Crakes, Crakes Media Consulting, former Senior Vice President of Fox Sports Senior Vice President Programming in Research & Content Strategy
I see 10.4 million viewers for a six-game series, down -25 percent from 2019’s 13.9 million and the lowest-ever average viewing for a World Series. In a year where every marquee sporting event since March has posted -30-50 percent declines, the 2020 World Series should buck that trend thanks to a cleaner viewing environment now that the traffic jam of premium sporting events in Prime has cleared out. The Series will also benefit from Game’s 1 & 2 as well as possible Game’s 6 & 7 being the only sporting events of major consequence airing on Tuesday’s and Wednesdays over the next 10 days. That said, the 2020 World Series will still have to content with a lower overall usage environment and off the scale news cycle/viewing. All in, it translates into a less than extreme decline vs. other similar Tier 1 Finals this year but still, a record one. We’ll need an epic series combined with a truly special Game 7 to have a chance to avoid all-time lows.
Dan Cohen, Senior Vice President of Octagon Sports and Entertainment Network
No doubt, ratings and viewership are askew in this anomaly of a year in sports programming. Our analysis would indicate that the 2020 World Series will in fact drop in viewership overall. Nailing down an average audience is largely dependent on the competitiveness from innings 1-9, blowouts will not help, but another big factor will be how many games the Series goes. In a best case scenario, the Dodgers-Rays will push it to the limit with a 7 game series. In that case, we project a 30-35% drop in average viewership for this one isolated 2020 World Series.
Phillip Swann, TV Answer Man
12 million. There will be a drop off of traditionalist baseball fans who loathe the DH, free ‘doubles’ in extra innings, and every other inane rule imposed by the worst commissioner in the history of the sport.
Andrew Marchand, New York Post sports media columnist
14.9 million. The Dodgers make it a respectable rating given what is going on.
Dan Serafin, News 12 The Bronx/Brooklyn sports anchor
While the Dodgers bring some viewers, I don’t see a lot of widespread interest in this World Series. I think we’ll get a 7-game series and that will help, but I see the final total coming in at around 12 million viewers.
Michael McCarthy, senior writer at Front Office Sports
The Dodgers’ stirring comeback thankfully brought the nation’s No. 2 TV market back into play for Fox Sports. But sports viewership unfortunately down virtually across the board. Prediction: 25% decrease to 10.4 million average viewers.
Frank Isola, The Athletic/ESPN
12 million. It’s still the World Series and it’s the Dodgers. Had the Yankees made it that would have been huge for MLB but Tampa deserves to be there and I’m hoping they get four more wins. Two titles for L.A. in one month is one too many.
Jay Posner, sports editor of San Diego Union-Tribune
I’ll go with 8.6 million … Ratings are falling for nearly every sport and even though this should be a good series and the Rays are the type of underdog people should love rooting for, it’s still difficult to see America getting fired up to watch them.
Evan Boyd, Stats by STATS researcher
Unfortunately, because of the ratings of various major sports during the pandemic, as well as the fact that a small-market team, the Rays, are playing, I expect this World Series to have a decline in ratings. I believe that the Dodgers will win in 6 games, with an average viewership of 10.9 million.
Neil Best, Newsday sports columnist
12.1 million. Having the Dodgers involved obviously helps, but the world is just way too distracted to pay close attention to this year’s Series.
David Barron, Houston Chronicle sports media columnist
10 million. Tampa Bay won’t bring sufficient Right Coast viewership and the approaching election will siphon off casual viewers.
Scott Nolte, KUYY deejay/sports announcer
Do I have to? LOL. As a Braves fan, I am still very depressed. 6.5 million. Based on the trend with the NBA and NHL finals and the teams involved, I am predicting a low viewership. Also: Rays in 6.
Bobby Goodsby, sports podcaster of “Clupp and the Goods” / “Big Brother” live feed updater for Rob Has A Podcast
I think the average ownership will fall somewhere around 14.6 million. This matchup is more interesting than in years past. This year, we are dealing with COVID-19 so some people are working from home or are still quarantining themselves and will have more accessibility to be able to watch the World Series. However, with states opening back up, I don’t think it will be as high as we think. Also, the teams themselves factor into the equation. You have the Dodgers, who have a massive following and as the top team in baseball all year, will draw in viewership. You also have the Rays who have been solid all year but are in a much smaller market. The Rays are playing in only their second World Series ever but I don’t think that will factor in much, if at all.
14.6 million is about where the league will hope viewership lands and if so, it will be a pretty solid draw.
Jason Jacobs, KUOO deejay/sports announcer
It will do better than the NBA because this is it’s normal time of the year although ratings fall like everything else. I’ll predict 9.6 million overall.
Vince Wladika, VMW Communications
As a diehard baseball fan, it’s pains me to say this — Whoever gives you the lowest number for 2020 World Series viewership, I will go lower. It will be horrible in terms of viewership. No one knows a single player on Tampa and the East Coast could care less about the the Dodgers.