The final numbers for Fox's Baseball Night in America are in, and the results are incredibly disappointing for Fox heading into the launch of Fox Sports 1. The primetime season concluded on July 13th, heading into the All-Star Break with a 1.9 rating for Cardinals-Cubs, slightly up from Mets-Braves 2012 (1.8 rating) and flat from 2011 (1.9 rating, Braves-Phillies).
Only three of the eight games that Fox aired in primetime this year drew at least a 2.0 rating, down from four a year ago. However, two games couldn't reach last year's low mark of a 1.7 rating, and none of the games this season came close to the high watermark of 2.8 in 2011, let alone the 2.4 benchmark that two games hit last season. Last year, Fox and MLB got lucky with an NHL postseason that featured two financially strapped teams in the Conference Finals. This year, three of the four teams in the Conference Finals were ratings gold, and the fourth was the defending Stanley Cup Champions from a huge market. MLB and Fox got creamed when they went head to head with hockey, and for good reason.
When I reflected on Baseball Night in America last summer, I thought Fox would continue the primetime train, and possibly expand their slate. Well, I was half right, as Fox kept the primetime games going, but kept their schedule at eight weeks. Fox continued to go all-in with multiple games in primetime, enraging fans by blacking out a third of MLB teams (an issue that will be solved next season). The magic was gone, ratings fell, and when the games moved back to the afternoon this weekend…the Yankees and Red Sox drew a 2.5 overnight, better than every single primetime game (but likely to drop closer to their level). Oh.
What's going to happen in 2014? I think what's going to end up happening, and this is all a complete guess since we have no idea how things will work with Fox Sports 1, is that the eight primetime games will be on the Fox broadcast network through May and June, while the afternoon games shift to Fox Sports 1 as expected. National blackouts will be gone, and that could be a game changer for better or worse. At any rate, a new era will be dawning in ten months for Baseball Night in America.