October 20, 2011

The Sked: The Sad Downward Slide of World Series Ratings

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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>Pity the poor Former National Pastime.  In the quarter century that Nielsen has used the PeopleMeter to measure demographic ratings, viewership of the World Series has dropped by more than half in the key advertising sales demographic.  From 1987 (the first year demographic ratings came from electronic meters and remote controls rather than a paper diary) through 1993 (the last baseball season before the disastrous strike), Game 1 of the World Series averaged a 10.1 Adult 18-49 rating.  In the ten years after the strike (1995-2004), Game 1 averaged a still respectable 7.0 rating.  But since 2005 (as players scored fewer runs and hit far fewer home runs without the benefits of steroids), the average Game 1 has turned in a 5.0 rating (far below what a regular season NFL game generates).

Before the Strike that killed the 1994 postseason, it looked like the World Series was relatively bullet-proof.  No match-up from 1987-1993 features the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox (remember how lean those years were for those franchises?).  The period was riddled with regional pairings (Minnesota-St Louis, LA-Oakland, even two teams from the same market, San Francisco-Oakland).  Two of the Series even featured a Canadian team.  Even worse, CBS broadcast four Series (1990-1993) with coverage as lame as their Olympic efforts.  And yet the lowest Game 1 in this period was an 8.5 rating. 

From 1995-2004, the sport embarked on a long downward slide.   Game 1 ratings in that decade ranged from a high of 9.3 in 1996 (NY Yankees-Atlanta) to a low of 5.0 in 2002 (Anaheim-San Francisco).  It might be tempting to assume that 2002 was ignored because it was too regional, too California and lacking a marquee Northeast team.  But note that 2001 (Yankees-Arizona) was not much better: a 5.3 rating.  If we look at Game 1 ratings in this period featuring the Yankees or the Red Sox versus Game 1 ratings for Series without these iconic teams, there is only a slight advantage to having New York or Boston involved: a 7.2 average rating with New York or Boston and a 6.8 rating without.

However, in recent years the presence of Boston or New York has saved the sport from utter shame.  Since 2005, Game 1 of a Yankees or Red Sox Series has averaged a 6.1 rating (not bad in the DVR era), while Game 1 match-ups without either team have averaged all the way down to a 4.4 rating.   

The nadir for Game 1 came in 2006 when the St Louis Cardinals opened against the Detroit Tigers and only mustered a 3.6 rating.  This was also the last time Game 1 aired on a Saturday night, the least viewed of the week.  Since 2007, the new format places Game 1 on Wednesday (weather permitting, of course).  Until the fast nationals Thursday morning give us our first indication of how this year’s Game 1 rated (featuring the Texas Rangers at the St Louis Cardinals), take a look at the table below for a complete historical view.  I am guessing this year’s Game 1 will rate about a 4.1 in the official nationals and around a 3.8 in the fast nationals, just avoiding the “worst ever” title.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."