World Series Sets Another Low for TV Viewership
When the Chicago Cubs met the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, more than 40 million people tuned in.
Four years later, the first five games of the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays combined to make it the lowest-rated World Series in history, according to Sports Media Watch, with five of the six least-watched games ever, topping out at 10.6 million for Game 5.
Before the series began, I listed eight reasons you should watch the World Series even if you didn’t care about either team, but viewers have come up with many more reasons to tune out.
There was still hope for a rebound, of course, with Game 6 Tuesday night and the Dodgers on the verge of their first title since 1988. There was no football as competition, so maybe fans who weren’t all that interested suddenly will check it out.
But assuming this will go down as one of the least-watched World Series ever, Major League Baseball now has to ask itself why.
There probably is not one real answer, and baseball can point to the overall ratings drops for the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup Final and other big sporting events that have suffered similar declines in 2020.
There’s a lot going on in 2020, and sports just aren’t as important when you’re dealing with a pandemic, a heated presidential election and your own problems at work or at home.
Still, going from 40 million viewers for Game 7 in 2016 to 10.6 million for Game 5 in 2020 is a significant drop that can’t be shrugged off as just a fluke.
The Rays’ walk-off win in Game 4 is considered a classic game in World Series history, but it also had the second-lowest viewership in history at 8.95 million, ahead of only Game 3′s 8.16 million. More viewers were watching Adele on “Saturday Night Live” than the frantic final play that evened the series at 2-2.
There always are going to be hardcore fans who will watch any World Series no matter who’s playing. We love the game for better or worse. It’s in our DNA. We can’t help it.
It’s casual fans MLB needs to add to the mix, and obviously it’s not doing such a great job getting them interested in this Dodgers-Rays affair.
I’m sure everyone has a theory or two, so here are mine.
First off, there have been no compelling stories to tell, such as the Cubs with their 107-year championship drought playing an Indians team with a 67-year drought in 2016.
The Cubs coming back from a 3-1 deficit to force Game 7 added to the intrigue, and Game 7 was an instant classic. It turned out to be the most-watched MLB game since 50.3 million viewers tuned in for Game 7 of the 1991 World Series between the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins, which the Twins won in another classic.
The Rays have no real stars and rarely were on national TV during the shortened 60-game season because, well, it’s usually the same half-dozen teams every week: the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies.
MLB caters to the large-market teams, along with a couple from smaller markets such as St. Louis that have national followings.
So almost all the Rays are new to casual viewers, and many Rays players are unknown to even hardcore fans. While rookie outfielder Randy Arozarena made a name for himself this postseason, he was not on anyone’s radar beforehand.
Kevin Kiermeier? Manuel Margot? They could be soccer players for all anyone knew.
The Rays also were involved in the 2008 World Series, which featured the fifth least-watched game — 9.84 million viewers for Game 3. Americans may love underdogs, but this is one underdog that apparently doesn’t move the needle.
The Dodgers are the polar opposite of the Rays, with many familiar names and a storied history to boot. But unlike the 2016 Cubs, who were ascending that season after their rebuild, the Dodgers have had the same basic narrative since the 2013 team that lost to the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. They’ve gone to the postseason every year since but always managed to falter in the end, including the World Series in 2017 and 2018.
Maybe the names are different, outside of Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen, but the story is the same — a star-studded team with a high payroll trying to win for the first time since 1988. How many times must we see that Kirk Gibson home run off Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the ’88 Series?
The Houston Astros and Yankees also contributed to the relative lack of interest.
As much as we may hate the Astros, they would’ve made for a much more interesting matchup against the Dodgers simply because L.A. felt cheated by its loss in the 2017 Series after the Astros sign-stealing scandal was revealed. And as much as we may hate the Yankees, hate-watching them is a national tradition, so they also would’ve drawn more eyeballs.
MLB’s decision to move the playoffs after the wild-card round from home ballparks to bubbles in California and Texas also factored into the ratings decline, even if it was made with good intentions to prevent a potential COVID-19 outbreak. (I’m not sure why we needed a day off after Games 2 and 5 since no travel was involved, but at least it allowed Chicagoans to watch the Bears fiasco on “Monday Night Football.”)
There’s something to be said about watching a game from Dodger Stadium or even the dreaded Tropicana Field. Both have unique atmospheres, and their fans, if allowed in, would’ve been a big part of the telecast.
Instead, all of the World Series games at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, have seemed like Dodgers home games. Most of the fans shown are wearing Dodgers apparel, and the limited crowd reacted much more when they were scoring runs than when the Rays scored.
MLB probably will chalk up this year’s lack of viewership to the 2020 excuse and focus on the fact it was able to get in a season at all. And hopefully we’ll return to the norm in 2021, with the World Series played in home ballparks in front of rabid fans packing every seat.
I know I’ll be watching. Whether the rest of the nation will tune is a question no one can answer.