As Major League Baseball resumes play tonight, FSN Florida and Comcast SportsNet Chicago are the leaders entering the second half of the season.
Those regional sports networks, carrying Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs contests, respectively, connected on the highest ratings gains during the first half of the 2008 MLB season, according to Nielsen Media Research data.
Despite dropping their last seven before the All-Star break to fall a half-game behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East, MLB's surprise team the Rays have provided FSN Florida with a 54% rise to a 3.13 household average in the Tampa DMA for its 38 telecasts through July 13, according to Nielsen data. That compares with a 2.03 telecast average in the area during the first half of 2007 and equates into 55,300 households on average in the current campaign.
Similarly, Comcast SportsNet Chicago notched a 4.9 household ratings average in the Chicago DMA for 46 Cubbies contests through July 13, a 52% rise from its 3.22 mark with the club’s games in the first half of the 2007 season, according to Nielsen. The team, which has not won the World Series since 1908, currently owns the sport's best record at 57-38, holding a 4.5-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central division.
Speaking of the Cardinals, Redbirds’ games grew 6% to an 8.12 in the St. Louis DMA for FSN Midwest -- the second-best average among the RSNs with MLB action. Only NESN, which televises Bosox games, fared better with a 9.93 mark, although that average was down 18% from a 12.05 in the DMA during the first half of the 2007 season.
(Nielsen comparatives were not available for MASN, which carries Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals games, or FSN Kansas City, which televises Royals games. Last season, Royals games were syndicated; this year, they averaged a 3.08 for the RSN through Sunday.)
FSN Southwest and Comcast SportsNet Chicago enjoyed the third- and fourth-largest ratings bumps -- 27% for Texas Rangers games to a 1.64 average in the Dallas DMA and 24% to a 1.93 in the Windy City environs with the White Sox. The Pale Hose currently lead the American League Central.
Conversely, Liberty Sports-owned FSN Northwest endured the biggest first-half Nielsen decline. The disappointing Mariners, tied with the San Diego Padres for the second worst record in the game at 37-58 (the Nationals are 36-60), averaged a 4.73 mark in the Seattle DMA for the regional, a 43% drop from an 8.32 through the similar stage last season. For its part, Cox’s Channel 4 fell 34% to a 4.88 from a 7.39 in the San Diego DMA with the Padres, marking the second-biggest decline among the measured RSNs with MLB.
In the nation’s two biggest markets, three of the four RSNs covering ballclubs have lost Nielsen ground. FSN Prime Ticket declined 24% with Los Angeles Dodgers games to a 1.58, while FSN West dropped 19% with Angels’ action to a 1.23.
In the Big Apple, SportsNet New York was off 6% to a 2.90 with New York Mets games; YES grew 3% to a 4.50 with its coverage of the New York Yankees.
Elsewhere, the other gainers were: FSN South, 17% to a 3.20 with the Atlanta Braves; FSN Wisconsin, 4% to a 6.91 with the Milwaukee Brewers; FSN Ohio, 14% to a 5.77 with the Cincinnati Reds; FSN Florida/Sun Sports, 9% to a 3.50 with the Florida Marlins; FSN Rocky Mountain, 14% to a 3.58 with the Colorado Rockies; Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 11% to a 2.19 with the Oakland A’s; and Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, 4% to a 5.20 with the Phillies.
These networks also sustained MLB Nielsen erosion: FSN Southwest, down 30% to a 3.23 with the Houston Astros; FSN Detroit, 2% to a 6.60 with the Tigers; SportsSouth, 2% to a 3.17 with the Braves; FSN North, 5% to a 7.04 with the Minnesota Twins; FSN Arizona, 2% to a 3.89 with the Arizona Diamondbacks; FSN Pittsburgh, 21% to a 3.01 with the Pirates; Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 5% to a 2.51 with the San Francisco Giants; and SportsTime Ohio, 18% to a 4.30 with the Cleveland Indians.
Overall, FSN owned-and-operated RSNs were down 2% during the first half to a 3.3 average in their respective DMAs, according to Nielsen. Network officials anticipate a strong second half with the playoff races heating up and the absence of broadcast primetime fare for most of the remainder of the season.