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Major League Baseball TV Ratings Are Surging in 2020. Why?

Petco Park San Diego Padres 2020

I'm a broadcaster at heart.

Prior to becoming known for my work in baseball, I spent twelve years behind a different microphone--radio.

It's a personal medium, one that allows a direct connection with listeners. Bonds are formed. Relationships develop. Discussions (yes, sometimes heated) are had. Yet, you may never exchange one word with the other soul in real life.

Much like radio, baseball is an instrument that provides a similar comfort... a certainty in an uncertain time. And while I can't connect with the Friar Faithful inside the ballpark this year, I know they're eagerly tuned in for the familiar sights and sounds of the game.

Let's take a look at some of the incredible numbers to date, and some of the reasons why.


Regional Coverage is Booming

According to Nielsen Media Research, an American firm that measures television audiences, the average rating for Padres games on flagship FOX Sports San Diego (rebranded to Bally Sports San Diego in 2021) was up 76% last season--the largest average viewership increase amongst the US regional sports networks.

Building on that, Nielsen reported San Diego is one of five markets that stood out for tremendous growth in adults 18+ to start the 2020 season. Along with St. Louis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Minneapolis-St. Paul, these markets "showed at least a full rating point or more gain from the previous year," or at least 25%.

That added momentum started with this broadcast on Opening Day.

On Friday, July 24th, FOX Sports San Diego posted a 6.33 household (HH) rating, the highest ever for an Opening Day broadcast on the network, and an increase of 88% over 2019. In its time slot, it was the number-one rated program in the market.

Sunday's "Military Opening Day" broadcast was even better for FSSD, drawing a 7.09 rating--its third highest since 2012--and through July 30th, the network pulled a 45% increase over the same number of games in 2019.

With the intrigue surrounding the MLB trade deadline, and the Padres' prize acquisition of Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger, FSSD reached yet another Nielsen watermark.

Home Team Sports, a division of FOX Sports Media Group, reported the Monday, August 31st game against the Colorado Rockies earned a 7.43 HH rating--the highest number ever in the history of the RSN.

A Monday night tilt against the rival Dodgers toppled that record just two weeks later.


National TV is Trending Up

This tremendous growth has not been limited to just local viewing. Sizable increases have been seen in national audience, especially within demos crucial to baseball's long-term success.

According to Nielsen, the ESPN Opening Day matchup between the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals averaged over 4-million viewers, making it the most-watched Opening Night telecast ever, and the most-watched regular season MLB game since 2011. The broadcast was up 232% over last year's Red Sox-Mariners opener, also on ESPN.

Manny Machado San Diego Padres Awful Announcing Spring Training 2020

Beyond Opening Day, the network has reported continued progress, particularly

Women aged 18-34 increased 55%, while adults 18-34 gained 45%. Both groups contributed to an overall 13% improvement over the 2019 season average. Front Office Sports senior writer Michael McCarthy attributes this gain to MLB's recent emphasis on power hitting and pitching.

The must-watch Padres benefit from five nationally-televised games on FS1 during the regular season.


Streaming is Also Surging

Not to be left out, the league's multi-platform streaming service is setting all-time records of its own.

The Athletic notes that through August 11th, MLB.TV is up 11% in total games watched and up 29% in total minutes watched over 2019. Viewers under 25 are also up 11%.


So, what's going on?

Long-time sportswriter and baseball analyst Peter Gammons theorizes these trends are in part due to the pandemic and a resurgence in suburban life.

"There seems to be a growing move away from cities. The pandemic has brought a different lifestyle, where going to urban offices more than two or three days a week at most is deemed unnecessary," Gammons writes. "With schools closed, the time spent at home with children has increased... shared television time has become more common."

It could be the excitement of a shortened season, where every game matters in a mad sprint to the finish. "Perhaps it’s the perfect setup for outsiders like the San Diego Padres... to sneak into the championship chase," says the AP's Ben Walker.

Or, it might be a crop of electric, young talent energizing the game nightly. Stars like the Nats' Juan Soto, the Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuña, Jr., and our very own Fernando Tatis, Jr. are putting on a show, and putting up video game-like numbers in the process.

Let the kids play, and people will watch.

In 2020, it's truly anyone's--and everyone's--game.


To see Alex's most recent appearances on radio, television, and streaming programming, take a look at his new Media & Publicity Reel. It features takes on baseball in 2020 from his unique point-of-view.


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