We can complain about the state of Major League Baseball on national television all we want. And while we’re completely justified in doing so, one thing is for sure – MLB Network seems immune to the freefalling Fox MLB ratings.
According to Nielsen, the second quarter of 2014 for MLB Network was their most-watched quarter of all-time. During the past three months, MLB Network averaged a whopping 206,000 viewers in primetime and 105,000 over the full day, increases of 12% and 27% from the second quarter of 2013. Each month of the quarter also saw rises from 2013, highlighted by an April that saw MLB Network average 253,000 viewers in primetime and 126,000 total day viewers, both of which were records for any regular season month. May was up 24% in total day viewers from 2013, and June was up 11% from 2013. ESPN has also seen a jump of 13% for their live game coverage, and all three timeslots (Sunday Night, Monday Night, and Wednesday Night Baseball) are up across the board.
In case you want to point at just an increased interest in live games, MLB Network’s studio shows also increased. The Rundown, which generally airs in the middle of the afternoon during the week, increased its average viewer total by 42% from the second quarter of 2013. The retooled MLB Now with Brian Kenny was up 25%. Intentional Talk, always a solid draw in the 5 PM hour, was up by 16%. The fantastic MLB Tonight was up 30%. Even Quick Pitch, which is seemingly airing every time you turn the network on before noon, was up 20%. Those are all very positive signs for MLB Network.
It’s funny – despite all of our lamenting about MLB’s decline in casual fan viewership, the diehards are still tuning in at levels we haven’t seen before. Maybe that’s the best course of action for the major networks – don’t worry about appealing to the casual fan. Just try to make the diehard fans happy, and the rest will eventually start to come. Isn’t that what NBC did with the Premier League? Isn’t that what ESPN is doing with the World Cup? There aren’t any stupid gimmicks or inane talking points, and that strategy is working just fine for those two networks. Maybe ESPN and Fox should look at those presentations when it comes to MLB and try to improve their presentation. Maybe ESPN and Fox should utilize some of their fabulous studio talent (Adnan Virk, Gabe Kapler to name one from each network) for game coverage. You really don’t need to jazz baseball up to reinvent the wheel to increase your viewership numbers – just don’t make the fans feel like they’re watching something else.