Ratings Fluctuate Wildly as Baseball Playoffs Get Underway

by David Tanklefsky  |  10.06.2016

It should not come as a surprise that last night’s Ubermensch battle between Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard broke the record for highest-rated Major League Baseball Wild Card Game on record. The skyscraping numbers from the Giants/Mets epic likely heartened MLB executives one night after the AL Wild Card Game between the Orioles and Blue Jays tied for the lowest-rated wild card contest in the short history of the game.

The NL matchup featured a former World Series MVP against a young fireballer ascending to his place in the big-league firmament. It also featured the nation’s largest and sixth largest media markets playing with a trip to visit the dominant Cubs, championship-less since 1908 (maybe you’ve heard) on the line.

In its four years of existence, the Wild Card has infused the opening days of the MLB postseason with a shot of adrenaline that only comes with sudden death competition. This year was no different, with two highly-competitive matchups both being decided in the final inning. The difference in ratings is likely due to competition: one game ran up against this year’s must-see election cycle and the other did not.

The Giants/Mets matchup earned a record 5.8 overnight rating, according to ESPN. It was the top-rated Wild Card game so far, just besting last year’s Yankees/Astros AL Wild Card (5.7). It was the highest-rated baseball game on ESPN in more than a decade, according to the network. The game peaked with a 7.1 rating during the 9th inning.

It also set highs for ESPN in the local markets, delivering a 16.0 overnight in San Francisco and a 15.6 in New York. The 16 rating in the Bay Area blew away the previous record of 13.3 for the 2014 Wild Card playoff between the Giants and Pirates.

ESPN is also touting the game’s success on second screen options. Giants/Mets generated more than 634,000 unique viewers in online streaming, up 42 percent over last year’s Yankees/Astros game. 

It was an equally riveting game on Tuesday night but a different ratings story. Blue Jays/Orioles posted just a 3.3 overnight rating, tied for the lowest of the ten Wild Card game telecasts going back to 2012. One could argue that it really is the lowest-rated, given that the Cardinals/Braves 2012 contest it tied with aired in the afternoon versus Tuesday’s primetime slot.

The biggest contributing factor for the low numbers was likely the vice presidential debate on Monday night which, though not nearly as watched as last week’s presidential fracas, still garnered 37 million viewers, according to Nielsen. The ratings also were likely lower since the numbers out of Toronto, home of the Blue Jays, don’t factor into U.S. TV ratings.

Baseball is hoping a post-season chock full of storylines, from the Cubs attempt to end its storied 108-year playoff drought to a repeat ALDS grudge match between Toronto and Texas, will continue to give ratings a lift. There’s also no shortage of big-market clubs in the post-season. Even with the Mets’ early exit, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles are all represented.

A number of the teams in this year’s playoffs posted strong local ratings growth throughout the season, indicating there will likely be strong interest in the playoffs too. TV ratings in Boston shot up 33 percent this year after last year’s second straight last-place finish, according to Forbes. Cubs ratings climbed by 39 percent, highest in the league, and the Dallas market posted a 24 percent uptick in local Rangers games.

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