Sunday Night Baseball ratings were up 10 percent from last year, ESPN announced yesterday. The broadcast averaged a 1.1 rating across 26 weeks compared to 1.0 in 2016. This is good news for ESPN as any gain in television viewership should be celebrated in a tough and crowded marketplace.
But we should probably be cautious before drawing any huge conclusions based on the uptick. First, the total audience figure of 1,762,000 viewers this year is still down from 1,780,000 in 2015 and 1,810,000 in 2014. This summer was also not overshadowed by a contentious presidential campaign sucking the oxygen out of the room or major international sporting events — like last summer’s Olympics in Brazil.
More importantly, the big-market teams featured on the broadcast are enjoying great success this year. The New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox are all bound for the playoffs. When there’s good baseball being played in the top three markets, you can expect a ratings boost.
Compare this to how NBA teams from these cities have fared this year. The Knicks, Nets, and Lakers all missed the playoffs. The Bulls and Clippers were eliminated in the first round while the Celtics advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. The NFL isn’t lining up to be any better. The Giants and Jets both stumbled out of the gates, the Bears are bad, and both L.A. teams are struggling for a foothold and eyeballs. The Patriots, of course, are still doing just fine.
This is not to take anything away from the Sunday Night Baseball broadcast, which took great strides to be different this year with more cutaways and a conversational feel. The addition of Jessica Mendoza was a smart one, and the ratings prove there was no significant backlash from the backward thinking.