MLB Home Run Derby 2024 Credit: Major League Baseball

Sports media reporters Richard Deitsch and Austin Karp speculated on the latest episode of Deitsch’s podcast that MLB Home Run Derby viewership could finally surpass All-Star Game viewership next week, a milestone that would highlight baseball’s evolving fan base and changing viewer trends.

The prediction might not be as shocking as history would suggest. While MLB All-Star Game viewership trends have followed World Series viewership trends in recent years for Fox, ESPN’s broadcast of the Derby remains strong over time.

This year’s All-Star rosters are dominated by fresh faces, with 32 newcomers alongside superstars like Shohei Ohtani, Bryce Harper, and Aaron Judge. The Derby, however, lacks the traditional star power that would make Deitsch and Karp’s speculation appear unlikely. Of the six confirmed participants in the Derby, the fifth appearance by New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso is probably the biggest draw.

Still, viewership trends in recent years suggest Deitsch and Karp could be right. In 2023, the All-Star Game drew just over 7 million viewers, a record low. The Derby, on the other hand, averaged 6.1 million viewers. The trends are clear. At some point, the Derby will surpass All-Star. With Fox being in an estimated 84 million homes versus the estimated 68 million homes ESPN is in,  you could make the argument that if the Derby was broadcasted on the same channel as the All-Star-Game, it’s very possible it would have already eclipsed the more accessible All-Star-Game.

To add to the Derby’s favor, the 2021 event tied for the sixth most-watched ever, with more average viewers (7.11 million) than the 2023 All-Star Game. If Alonso can make magic again in the home of the defending World Series champion Texas Rangers, that could be enough to get the Derby over the hump.

Joining Alonso in the Derby are young Baltimore Orioles star Gunnar Henderson, first-time All-Star Bobby Witt Jr. of the Kansas City Royals, and veterans Jose Ramirez, Alec Bohm and Marcell Ozuna. Two additional players will join the event soon, but both Ohtani and Judge have bowed out already. That’s a bummer for the league, as Judge’s Derby win in 2017 drew 8.6 million viewers, good for second-best ever.

At the same time, All-Star youth may not be such a bad thing for MLB. First-time All-Star pitchers like Tarik Skubal and Shota Imanaga get a valuable shot on the national stage, while Pittsburgh Pirates phenom Paul Skenes could defy the odds and start for the National League just a year after being drafted. If MLB’s marketing strategy around Skenes (and his girlfriend Livvy Dunne) since his callup in the spring is any indication, they and Fox will build the All-Star broadcast around him whether he starts or not.

For most of the 2000s even as cable changed viewership habits, the MLB All-Star Game routinely drew around 14 million viewers. The falloff since then has been sharp. Could the combination of Skenes, big-market stars like Ohtani and Judge, plus intrigue around the youngsters be enough for baseball to rebound with its All-Star Game?

Or, will the fast pace and fun of the Home Run Derby boost it up above the game for the first time and give ESPN a big win? For reference, the shootout between Steph Curry and Sabrina Ionescu at NBA All-Star Weekend gave TNT and the league a boost while the All-Star Game was up slightly but still below historic norms.

It’s a fascinating question at a fascinating time for baseball. The sport remains massively popular on a local and regional level, especially for legacy franchises. Young stars and rule changes have injected intrigue back into the sport on a national level.

But as sports consumption evolves and sports TV viewership falls for everything outside of football, the Home Run Derby is the exact type of packaged event that could rise while game audiences fall.

[Sports Media with Richard Deitsch]

About Brendon Kleen

Brendon is a Media Commentary staff writer at Awful Announcing. He has also covered basketball and sports business at Front Office Sports, SB Nation, Uproxx and more.