Baseball Playoff Ratings Are Down: Blame the Yankees and Cubs

Red Sox celebrate after beating the New York Yankees by a score of 4-3 to win Game Four American League Division Series - Getty-H 2018
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Television ratings for Major League Baseball's postseason are down year-over-year, although one of the sports network partners has improved a bit. The reason for the declines? It has little to do with the quality of the games and much more to do with the teams playing.

Compared to a year ago, the teams involved hail from smaller markets. Fox Sports' coverage of the National League playoffs in particular has suffered from featuring smaller-market clubs.

TBS averaged 5.81 million viewers for the American League Championship Series, which the Boston Red Sox won in five games over the Houston Astros. That's down 6.5 percent vs. the cabler's coverage of the National League Championship Series last year (6.2 million).

Fox and Fox Sports 1, meanwhile, are averaging 4.27 million viewers for the NLCS, down 34 percent compared to their ALCS average a year ago (6.5 million)and off 39 percent from the 2016 NLCS, which averaged 6.95 million viewers. The two networks trade off airing the American and National leagues each year.

A year ago, the New York Yankees — from the country's biggest TV market — played the Astros (No. 7) in the ALCS, and the Los Angeles Dodgers (No. 2) played the Chicago Cubs (No. 3) in the NLCS. In addition to their big home markets, the Yankees and Cubs have some of the largest national followings of any team in baseball.

As of Friday afternoon, the Dodgers have a 3-2 lead in the NLCS over the Milwaukee Brewers, who play in the country's 36th-largest market and don't have near the national following that the Cubs do.

TBS did benefit from the presence of the Yankees — and a Red Sox-Yankees series — in the divisional series round. For the postseason as a whole, TBS is up 7 percent vs. 2017 and 55 percent over 2016, when it last had the ALCS (a comparatively low-wattage battle between the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays).

The 2016 NLCS was also an anomaly, as the Cubs' quest for their first World Series title since 1908 drove viewership. Fox Sports' NLCS viewership will likely grow with Game 6 and (if necessary) Game 7, as potential deciding games tend to attract more viewers.

Fox Sports is averaging 3.28 million viewers for the postseason so far, down 37 percent from 2017 — again, thanks in large part to the relative lack of major-market teams compared to a year ago. The average Nielsen market rank of the four cities in the ALDS last year — Boston, Houston, New York and Cleveland — was 9.25. For the National League this year (Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Denver and Atlanta) it's 16, and the home markets encompass about 3.2 million fewer TV households.

The World Series is set to begin Tuesday on Fox. Last season's seven-game series between the Astros and Dodgers averaged 18.9 million viewers, the second-highest this decade behind 2016.