Last weekend was a rather busy one on sports TV. On Saturday night, Clemson-Louisville and Texas-USC were among the college football matchups competing for viewers in primetime. Sunday night may have been even more competitive with Packers-Falcons on Sunday Night Football, the Emmy Awards and Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War documentary on PBS all hunting for an audience.

Another Sunday night option was the Los Angeles Dodgers playing the Washington Nationals in a possible preview of the National League Championship Series on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Unfortunately for ESPN — and for Major League Baseball — viewers didn’t seem particularly interested in watching the two best teams in the NL play each other, neither on Sunday night nor the weekend as a whole.

According to Sports Media Watch, Dodgers-Nationals drew a 0.55 rating and 855,000 viewers on Sunday Night Baseball. That’s the smallest audience for ESPN’s Sunday night MLB telecast since 2013, when the Mets played the Nationals. (SMW mentions a Royals-Orioles game that drew a far lower number, but points out that the broadcast was bumped to ESPN2 because of a delayed tennis match.)

The Dodgers-Nationals series didn’t fare any better Saturday on Fox. Granted, the telecast was regional, though went out to 81 percent of national TV markets. And the game was televised in the afternoon, not in prime time. But an 0.7 rating (a 42 percent drop from the same time last season) and an audience of 1.05 million viewers (38 percent drop) are eyebrow-raising numbers. (By the way, the rating was down 50 percent from 2015, while the audience dropped 46 percent.)

That 0.7 rating tied for the lowest number ever for Major League Baseball on broadcast TV. A Rays-Yankees broadcast tied for the same number last year, but went up against the Rio Olympics in prime time.

As media observer Eric Fingerhut points out on Twitter, part of the problem might be the Nationals. Despite their success, along with stars like Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer, national TV audiences don’t seem particularly interested in watching the Nats. They’re a team that should get a national spotlight and would presumably draw a larger viewership, but that hasn’t been the case.

This could be a troubling development in the postseason if Washington gets to the NLCS and World Series. Playing the Dodgers might not even matter, based on the numbers from last weekend.

Is this a result of baseball not having many compelling storylines throughout the 2017 season? The Dodgers and Nationals basically went unchallenged throughout the season, a circumstance that applied to virtually every division race. Fighting for the best record in the NL and getting home-field advantage in the postseason aren’t really the compelling sort of stakes that could draw viewers.

Yet if Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer had been the starting pitchers last Sunday night (rather than Hyun-Jin Ryu and Stephen Strasburg), perhaps that would have made some difference. For what it’s worth, neither pitcher — both contenders for the NL Cy Young Award — didn’t pitch in the weekend series. Depending on how the postseason develops for either team, that could be different in October. But will that be enough to draw more viewers?

[Sports Media Watch]

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is an editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has covered baseball for Yahoo! Sports, MLive.com, Bleacher Report and SB Nation, and provides analysis for several sports talk radio shows each week. He currently lives in Asheville, NC.

  • noonan18

    Most liberals were watching the Trump bashing Emmy’s on Sunday night, which provided more entertainment for them than an ESPN baseball game would.

    Another portion are sick of ESPN bringing politics into everything including their game coverage, which has become unwatchable even without politics, since they can’t seem to talk about anything going on with the game most of the night.

    The rest probably didn’t want to watch a meaningless game since both teams have already clinched playoff spots, especially when the NFL is on.

    I think I pretty much covered everyone and answered the question too 🙂

    • Mike Dodds

      Thanks for the explanation Mr. Trump.

    • Woof

      When I read that message I imagined President Piss Mop’s voice. But instead of the smile at the end, it was a scowl because his feelings are always getting hurt.

  • BobLee Says

    WHOA… I read “The Umpteen Reasons The Emmys Had Its Smallest Audience Ever” and #17 was “all the people watching some baseball game”. #13 was “a hurricane in Puerto Rico or somewhere”. #6 had something to do with “the Russians”. Now I don’t know who to believe ????

    • noonan18

      Bob, I’m assuming you weren’t watching ESPN because you were banned because of your name. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

      • BobLee Says

        Ha! I did a column on that 24 hours after the story broke assuring my audience I was Standing Tall … 🙂

  • Bscotch Bscotch

    .7? When numbers are that small, why are they rounding? Dinosaurs.

  • sportsfan365

    At this point of the baseball season there is no reason to watch anyone but the teams fighting for the last playoff spot(s). ESPN’s choice of showing big market teams that are basically locks for the playoffs was just another example of their poor management choices.