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Monday, July 14, 2014
Ratings: Sox up, Cubs down; few watching

By Jon Greenberg

The White Sox's ratings are up and the Cubs' ratings are down, but both teams share something in common: Very few people are watching either last-place team, at least not on Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

If CSN televised Marc Trestman watching mini-camp film, it would probably beat both teams in ratings.

Both the Cubs' and White Sox's local cable ratings at the All-Star break are in the bottom five of the 29 U.S.-based teams, according to a Sports Business Journal study of Nielsen ratings for regional sports networks.

The last-place Cubs rank No. 25 with a 1.48 average rating, that's down 7 percent from this point last season and 8 percent overall, according to information provided to ESPN Chicago by Sports Business Journal writer John Ourand.

Right now, the Sox, essentially tied with last-place Minnesota in the AL Central, have the fourth-highest gain in baseball, up 16 percent from this point last season and 24 percent from last year's final numbers.

Unfortunately, that's only good enough for a 1.39 rating, and only two teams are lower.

The two teams' household averages are stunningly close, 52,000 for the Cubs and 49,000 for the White Sox, Nos. 21 and 22, respectively, in baseball.

It's not like everyone's flocking to the ballparks either. The Cubs are down slightly (179 fans) from this point last season, averaging 32,469 in paid attendance, while the Sox are down around 1,700 fans per game from this point last season, and are the third-worst draw in baseball at 20,657.

The Milwaukee Brewers, whose ratings are up 32 percent, have more households watching games per average, 54,000, than both teams despite being the No. 34 Nielsen DMA market, compared to No. 3.

Last season, the Cubs ended with a dismal 1.6 rating, while the White Sox were essentially last with a 1.14. Only Houston, which had major carriage problems with its RSN, CSN Houston, was lower.

Comcast SportsNet Chicago senior director of communications Jeff Nuich told ESPN Chicago that Sox ratings are up 30 percent, compared to 2013 final numbers, in the key adults 25-54 demographic. The Cubs are down 11 percent in that demographic.

It didn't use to be this way.

Five years ago, the year after both teams last made the playoffs, Cubs' ratings were down 16.3 percent for the season, their last under Tribune Co. ownership, but their average rating was still a hearty 4.18. Their household average was 145,000, the fourth-highest in baseball.

In 2009, the Sox actually had an 8.1 percent jump with a 2.28 rating and were up 9.6 with 80,000 households tuned in.

The Cubs are the only team among the NL Central not in the top five of average ratings, according to SBJ. While the Detroit Tigers lead baseball with a 7.52, the next four teams are in the Central: the Cardinals (7.45), Pirates (6.37), Reds (6.37) and the Brewers (5.91).

This freefall comes at a particularly bad time for the Cubs, who are searching for a home for almost half of their TV inventory next season. The WGN portion of their TV deal is up and there has been no word on a new home yet.

In a recent Chicago Tribune article, contributor Ed Sherman wrote that WGN is losing a reported $200,000 per game because of low ratings. He also reported the Cubs could put those "70 to 75" WGN games on a multicast channel, a "sub-channel for local over-the-air broadcast stations," for a few years until they can put all their games on one branded network.

The Cubs have been promising their fans that more money for their now-middling major league payroll will come partly from new TV deals. which have exploded into multi-billion dollars megadeals across baseball.

Fans might have to wait for 2020 for owner Tom Ricketts' pocketbook to open, because that's when the Comcast deal ends and Wrigley Field renovations are expected to be done, to see that come to fruition.

Until then, both teams could use a few hours of your time a night.