Baseball is back for a full-season this year, but the television viewers have not quite returned, according to a report from Maury Brown at Forbes. He analyzed television ratings from the first-half of the MLB season and found that while ratings are up 2 percent from last year’s 60-game shortened season, they’re still down 12 percent from the last full baseball season in 2019. All but six teams (not including Toronto, which is not included in Nielsen ratings) have suffered a ratings decline from 2019 this year, including the Royals, who are down about 2 percent from the last full MLB season.
On average, about 39,000 TV households are tuning into Royals games this year, down from 40,000 in 2019. Those ratings do not reflect streaming numbers. Sinclair Broadcasting purchased the Fox Sports family of regional sports networks, including Fox Sports Kansas City (FSKC) in 2019 and re-branded them, with FSKC now known as Bally Sports Kansas City. They have taken a hard stance on carriage fees with streaming services, causing YouTube TV, Sling TV, Hulu, and fuboTV to drop them, leaving few options for cord-cutters. Sinclair is hoping to launch a stand-alone streaming service in time for the 2022 season.
Brown points out that there are a myriad of reasons why ratings are down, many of which are related to the pandemic. But even though the ratings don’t reflect the battle with streaming services, the Bally networks are suffering in viewership.
In looking at the groupings of RSNs, it’s clear that the Bally Sports family of networks is creating a drag. Those RSNs were the former FOX Sports networks that Disney DIS -1.1% had to sell off to pass the muster of the feds when the company purchased nearly all of FOX.
The Bally Sports RSNs are down -8% compared to 2020 and down -19% compared to 2019. By comparison, the NBC Sports RSNs is up +14% compared to last year and +30% in relation to 2019. The AT&T SportsNet family is flat compared to 2020 while running -3% against 2019. Independent RSNs such as NESN, MASN, SNY, and SportsNet LA is up +18% from last year but down -8% compared to 2019.
The Royals began a new contract with Bally Sports Kansas City in 2020 that will pay them an estimated $48-52 million per year. Despite their lower numbers, they still draw more viewers than several teams in larger markets including the Nationals, Orioles, Athletics, Diamondbacks, and Rangers.
Despite the TV ratings decline, Brown notes that baseball continues to do well with advertisers, with Craig Sloan, president of Home Team Sports, telling him “We are seeing more advertisers. We see larger commitments. There have been no issues on the advertiser front with Major League Baseball as a property for advertisers to line up and get behind.”
The teams that have increased their viewership have seen major increases, including exciting teams like the Chicago White Sox and San Diego Padres. Baseball also saw television ratings for its All-Star Game in Denver back in July inch up from the 2019 game. Kansas City had the third-highest TV ratings for the All-Star Game, which featured Royals catcher Salvador Perez in the starting lineup.