MLB All-Star Game TV Ratings Hold Steady by Craig Edwards July 13, 2015 Television ratings for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, like most sporting events and television shows generally, have seen a viewership decline over the last few decades. This decline is not new. After an embarrassing All-Star Game in 2002 that saw Bud Selig call the game a tie, the powers that be wanted to help prevent a further decline in ratings and interest so they came up with a plan to make the game matter. Beginning in 2003, the league that won the All-Star Game would receive home field advantage in the World Series. The move has done little to prevent ratings from a slow decline over the next few years, but over the past five seasons, the ratings have remained steady despite an increasingly fractured television landscape. Thirty years ago, the All-Star Game was the crown jewel of MLB’s regular season. Only around 50 baseball games were broadcast nationally, ESPN had not begun to broadcast games, and the All-Star Game was a rare opportunity to see the game’s best players. That rarity, combined with limited options for television viewing in general, came through in the ratings. The graph below shows the ratings for the MLB All-Star Game from 1967 through last season. Source: Baseball Almanac and LA Times In 1990, ESPN began to broadcast six games per week, and for the last 25 seasons, baseball on television evolved into a nightly event providing fans the opportunity to see more players and games than when the All-Star Game was at its peak. Local network broadcasts and eventually regionals sports networks got into the game as well, providing fans more games on television than had previously been available. As seen in the graph above, there has been a fairly steady decline over the last three decades. This decline is not unique to baseball as the ratings for individual television shows have gone down as well. The graph below shows the All-Star Game ratings as well as the highest rated television show in that same year. Additional Source: Tim Brooks The proliferation of cable as well as the internet has fractured viewership. No longer are viewers tied to three or four major networks, and of late, they are not even tied to the television for home entertainment options. MLB.tv has been at the forefront in providing greater opportunities for fans to watch games whenever and (almost) wherever they want. While regional sports networks on cable in concert with blackout restrictions on MLB.tv deserve what scorn they receive for denying fans in Los Angeles of seeing the Dodgers and fans in Iowa or Las Vegas from seeing roughly one-third of the games in the MLB.tv package, regional sports networks and MLB.tv have greatly expanded the universe of people able to watch MLB games on a daily basis. Over the last five years, viewership has remained steady for the All-Star Game while the World Series has been very team and game dependent. World Series games with more popular teams tend to do better in the ratings as do series that go longer as ratings tend to increase as a series goes on, moving the average ratings higher. While the ratings for the All-Star Game are certainly not what they have been in previous decades, they still do well in comparison to their competition. In 2013, the MLB All-Star Game got better ratings than any NBA playoff game aired on ESPN. Comparing the NFL to MLB generally provides a poor comparison when it comes to popularity and single-game television ratings given that NFL teams play ten percent of the amount of games that MLB teams play, the Pro Bowl can provide some comparison. The NFL’s Pro Bowl has been fraught with problems over the past decade as the game has generally taken place after the season ends, and much like any exhibition, player effort has been questioned. Ratings for the Pro Bowl have gone down considerably in recent years. The NBA does hold their All-Star Game in the middle of the season, and their ratings have been relatively static in recent years. Here is a graph showing the ratings since 2007 for the three games (Between strikes and breaks for the Olympics, the NHL does not have an All-Star Game every year and does not provide a worthwhile comparison). Additional Source: Sports Media Watch (NBA, NFL) The home run derby has been much maligned over the past few seasons, and last year’s rain-delayed derby did little to stop that criticism or draw more viewers. A new format this season is supposed to make the event run more smoothly, and whether those changes have a positive effect or there will be increased calls to emphasize the Futures Game is something to watch for after tonight’s event. Adding the Home Run Derby to the graph above shows, that despite the relative meaninglessness of the event, viewers still tune in to watch the Derby. Additional Source: Sports Media Watch (MLB HR Derby) The All-Star Game is an exhibition, and MLB has long attempted to make the game a showcase for its stars, combining different elements of fan voting with perhaps more merit-based selections from players and managers. The sport has increasingly attempted to encourage fan engagement, especially on the internet and social media, where its users tend to skew younger, an audience MLB is clearly targeting. While it is too early to say whether the efforts are working, the final vote (without voting limits) saw more than 100 million votes cast and the vote trended on Twitter throughout the day on Friday. Pointing to steady ratings as a victory for a sport and event that once dominated the ratings could be a sign to some that baseball is still on its way out of the public eye. However, maintaining ratings in a landscape where viewers have considerably more options for entertainment as well as a product diluted by the opportunity to see featured players on a daily basis throughout the season is a positive for the sport. Pointing to ratings and pretending that media is the same as it was thirty years ago ignores fundamental differences in consumer behavior. MLB still has a lot of work to do to improve the sport, and deficiencies in the product should be pointed out and addressed, but television ratings for the All-Star Game should not be high on the list of concerns.