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The 2018 World Series meeting between the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers was supposed to be a ratings home run for Fox and Major League Baseball. Los Angeles is the nation’s second largest TV market; Boston ranks ninth. And both the Red Sox and Dodgers are among the most recognizable baseball teams with each having a long, storied history.
The Series would last just five games out of a possible seven but featured several competitive games, including the 18-inning classic Game 3 on Oct. 26 that had lasted seven-and-a-half hours. Still, at an average of 14.1 million viewers across those five games, Red Sox-Dodgers ranks as the fourth least-watched World Series to-date, far below the 7-game Chicago Cubs/Cleveland Indians in 2016 (23.4 million; averaged 19.3 million for its first five games), the 7-game Houston Astros/Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017 (18.9 million; averaged 16.4 million for its first five games) and even the 5-game Kansas City Royals/New York Mets in 2015 (14.7 million).
Fox Sports executive vice president Mike Mulvihill noted on Sports Business Daily, “It’s possible the national appeal of the Red Sox is not quite what it was in [prior title years of] 2004 or 2007 or even 2013. And we are seeing less this year from New York and Chicago, two very important markets, after the Yankees and Cubs bowed out of the playoffs earlier than they did last year.”
Certainly, those top markets saw noticeable declines from last year’s first five games of the Astros-Dodgers Series. 789,000 viewers from the New York market — the home of Red Sox’s longtime bitter rival New York Yankees — tuned in for Red Sox-Dodgers, according to Nielsen, off 17 percent (948,000 in ’17). The number of Chicago viewers had a slightly steeper drop-off, down 26 percent year-to-year (328,000 vs. 444,000).
The absence of the Astros in this year’s Fall Classic caused an obvious huge 82 percent decline in the Houston market. 1.29 million of them watched Games 1 thru 5 last year; only 240,000 watched this year. The city of Boston nearly made up that difference for their Red Sox: 230,000 for ’17; 1.15 million for ’18.
But there are two other major markets in particular that can be pointed to for the lower-than-expected World Series results. Dallas-Fort Worth, the nation’s fifth-largest TV market and home to the Houston Astros’ interstate rival Texas Rangers, lost 42 percent of its viewership (262,000 vs. 455,000) which meant there were more of its residents that had tuned in to last year’s Series but tuned out of this year’s (a difference of 193,000) than those from New York (-159,000) or Chicago (-116,000).
The other market of concern: surprisingly, Los Angeles, the home of the Dodgers. While this market remained as the Series’ top market in total viewers, it dropped 18 percent from last year (2.16 million in ’18 vs. 2.6 million in ’17). It’s understandable that over one million of Houston TV watchers from last year bailed on this Series but it is quite notable that approximately 440,000 Angelenos (the nation’s second biggest raw decline in a market) also bailed out despite the presence of the Dodgers.
As an aside, the World Series saw some market increases: Orlando-Daytona Beach (+8 percent; 149,000 viewers vs. 138,000), Washington, D.C. (+2 percent; 291,000 vs. 286,000) and Tampa (+1 percent; 215,000 vs. 213,000).
Of course, when observing television viewership figures these days, especially of the linear platforms, the dynamics are rapidly evolving. A growing amount of people venture towards streaming services and “cutting the cord” (foregoing pay or basic cable subscriptions) to access more reasonably costing options. Even the NFL, the dominant sport in the U.S., has experienced some ratings erosion in recent years.
The 2018 World Series may have been susceptible to these circumstances but the rest of the television landscape has also been affected even moreso. For all the disappointing results the Fall Classic received, its network Fox was easily the prime time winner in each of the five nights the World Series had aired, including on Sunday, Oct. 28 opposite television’s No. 1 show, NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” It was the third consecutive year the World Series accomplished those feats.