Pandemic-Shortened MLB Season Opens to Strong TV Ratings

Major League Baseball proved to be a home entertainment winner, delivering strong TV ratings on its opening weekend of games July 23-26. Citing a lack of competing sports (the NBA and NHL re-started their seasons July 30 and Aug. 1, respectively) and a fanbase starved for live competition, MLB said viewership was double than during the previous-year weekend.

The first 12 games of the truncated 60-game season broadcast on ESPN reportedly averaged 1.16 million viewers, which was up 34% from last year. The July 23 league opener featuring the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals generated 4 million viewers, the highest for a regular-season game since 2011.

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Nielsen said ratings for regional sports networks carrying non-national televised games saw rating increase 31% opening weekend and 18% across 25 markets through July 29.

“Whatever challenges were presented by the absence of fans was very much outweighed by the optimism,” Michael Mulvihill, head of strategy and analytics at Fox Sports, told The Wall Street Journal. “There was the expectation of a great, pent-up appetite for baseball.”

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That said, a spike in coronavirus infections among players on the Miami Marlins threatens to derail a season that is already played live in empty stadiums. The infections have caused postponement of 33 games through Aug. 2.

The St. Louis Cardinals remained quarantined in their Milwaukee hotel for a third day following four confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“You have to flatten the curve before you can move forward,” John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations for the Cardinals, told a local radio show. “So over the last couple days, we’ve been trending in the wrong direction, and hopefully we get some better news today.”