MLB Ratings Flat or Slightly Down

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Cable networks said Major League Baseball ratings haven’t hit any home runs during the first half of the season, but they aren’t striking out among viewers either.

ESPN, the FSN regional sports networks, TBS and Superstation WGN were posting either flat or slight ratings declines going into baseball’s All-Star break, but executives remained hopeful that ratings will climb as the pennant races heat up.

Heading into last week’s “Mid-Summer Classic,” ESPN2’s ratings grew 17% to a 0.7 average over 25 telecasts, compared with 38 games last year, according to ESPN officials. ESPN hasn’t enjoyed the same success -- the network’s 47 telecasts are down 9% to a 1.0 from a 1.1 versus 37 games last season.

For games aired through July 10, FSN reported a 3.7 average within the DMAs served by 13 owned-and-operated RSNs, flat from the same period last year.

FSN chief operating officer Randy Freer said the numbers were boosted by the addition of telecasts for ratings-strong teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, as well as the Houston Astros.

FSN also experienced strong performances from such teams as the Minnesota Twins, which posted a 7.3 rating for FSN North (up 51%); the Milwaukee Brewers (4.1, up 27% on FSN North); and the Atlanta Braves (5.8, up 39% on FSN South).

As for TBS -- which, like the Braves, is owned by Time Warner Inc. -- its 41 baseball telecasts through July 3 batted at a 0.9 average, even with last year’s performance to that point. TBS executives said ratings are holding despite the team’s subpar first-half performance.

In Chicago, Superstation WGN has not seen good results with its national telecasts, despite the White Sox’s long lead in the American League Central. Through the first 18 games, “Pale Hose” telecasts attracted 205,000 households on average, down 11.9% from a 244,000 average for 19 games in 2004. The club was also off among adults 18-49 and 25-54.

WGN’s Cubs coverage, meanwhile, was also off in all measures through 36 games, versus 42 at the halfway point a year ago.

For more on cable’s MLB ratings, please see R. Thomas Umstead’s story on page eight of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.

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