If anyone has read my work here at Awful Announcing before, you know how much I implore MLB and its national television partners to showcase teams other than the Yankees and Red Sox. Hell, I’m almost sick of talking about it – it seems like every time the two teams play, you can see every game of the series on one of Fox, Fox Sports 1, ESPN, and MLB Network. It’s an unbelievable overload of these two clubs, and one that many fans are sick of.
There’s just one small problem with the overload of these two teams – they’re the only clubs that still draw acceptable national ratings for MLB. Last Saturday’s matchup between the two teams on Fox drew a 2.3 rating, down 8% from each of the last two years, but still far and away the best rating for a game on Fox this year. The previous high was just 1.6, a solid 30% lower than the Yankees-Sox rating. Without a direct World Cup lead-in, the Yankees and Red Sox drew 2.6 million viewers on Sunday, second only to Rangers-Angels the week before (which benefited from a lead-in of the US-Portugal match).
And thus, we have ourselves a little bit of a problem. If MLB and the networks try to spotlight new teams and players like they have this year, the ratings tank. If the league and networks break out the tried and true matchups, they risk alienating diehard fans of other teams and continuing the never-ending cycle of Yanks, Sox, and 28 other teams. It really is a lose-lose situation, one without an obvious fix.
What would a possible fix be? I think that maybe restricting networks to one window of a particular matchup each year would be beneficial. For example, instead of ESPN airing every Red Sox-Yankees game they can get on Sunday, they can only do it once on Sunday, once on Monday, and once on Wednesday over the entire course of the year. The same would go for Fox and MLB Network. You want to air Yankees-Red Sox on Saturday? Great – you get it once in primetime, and once in the afternoon.
Doing this wouldn’t necessarily solve much of anything – ratings would probably still continue to lag for the non-marquee matchups, but maybe some sort of set restriction would push ratings up across the board. Maybe networks would get a little more creative knowing that they couldn’t keep going back to the well for the same matchups every couple of months. Maybe viewers would tune in more, realizing that they won’t be able to see select matchups more than a couple times a year as opposed to every damn time they play.
Whatever ends up happening, (and I really doubt anything will change since the new contracts are already signed, sealed, and delivered) MLB and the networks are in a delicate situation. Do you keep rolling out the same tired matchup, knowing that it’s the only proven draw you have? Or do you keep expanding your reach and showcasing other teams, hoping that it pays off down the line? I don’t think anyone knows what the best answer is. I sure don’t. All I know is that MLB is stuck in between a rock and a hard place right now, and at least one group of people is going to be upset.