Amid several potential record-breaking individual and team
performances, regional- and national-sports-network executives are pleased with the
ratings performance of Major League Baseball games heading into the All-Star break.
Ratings for the regional-sports services, as well as for
ESPN and FX, are either even or up from last year, stopping a yearly ratings decline that
gained momentum after MLB's 1994 strike.
ESPN executives said baseball ratings have been
"steady" through the first half of the year, boosted by interleague play and
several ongoing story lines, including the pursuit of Roger Maris' home-run record.
Through 42 games, the network is averaging a 1.5 Nielsen
Media Research rating, even with last year's figures. Viewership numbers for ESPN
baseball telecasts, however, are up 8 percent over last year.
ESPN's June 28 New York Yankees-New York Mets
interleague game generated a 4.3 rating -- the network's highest-rated baseball
telecast in more than three years, and its highest-rated Sunday-night game in seven years,
an ESPN spokeswoman said.
FX's ratings are up from last year, although the
network would not reveal specific figures. Ratings for the network's weekly telecasts
have been aided by its switch from Monday nights to Saturday nights, network executives
But the most significant ratings increases have come at the
regional-sports level, where
many networks are experiencing double-digit ratings
increases from last year.
Fox Sports West's coverage of the Los Angeles
Dodgers is up 50 percent over last year, while its Anaheim Angels ratings are up 40
percent over 1997.
Fox Sports Detroit is up 41 percent with its Tigers
Fox Sports Southwest is up 34 percent with St. Louis
Arthur Smith, executive vice president of programming and
production for Fox Sports Net, said the many positive stories that are transpiring during
this season have increased interest in baseball among fans who may have left the sports
after the strike.
Several players -- including Cardinals slugger Mark
McGwire, Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa and Seattle Mariners superstar Ken Griffey Jr.
-- are in striking range of breaking the long-standing single-season home-run record of
Also, the Yankees are on a pace to possibly set the best
record ever by a team.
More important, Smith said, ratings for baseball held up
well despite going up against both the National Basketball Association and National Hockey
League finals, as well as soccer's World Cup. With no major sport events to compete
with for the rest of the summer, executives are confident that ratings for the sport will
continue to increase.