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Monday, July 26, 2010
Explaining Red Sox's ratings plummet


Hey, here's some mildly surprising news. According to SportsBusiness Journal, the Red Sox's TV ratings this season are way, way down:
The Boston Red Sox’s six-year reign atop MLB’s local television ratings is about to end, as the team’s local numbers have plummeted from first to fifth this season.

Entering the All-Star break, ratings for Red Sox games on NESN have dropped nearly 36 percent from last year, for a 6.25 average rating.

The last time the Red Sox finished out of the top spot was in 2003, when the Mariners posted an 11.53 rating on FSN Northwest. The Sox averaged a 7.86 rating that year on NESN. This year, Red Sox ratings trail the Cardinals (9.70 on FS Midwest), Twins (7.85 on FS North), Phillies (7.20 on CSN Philadelphia) and Reds (6.52 on FS Ohio).

--snip--

In Boston, the declining TV numbers are not the only evidence that suggests Red Sox Nation is more apathetic about this year’s team than in years past. Despite the fact that the team just had its 600th straight sellout at Fenway Park, the lack of the traditional enthusiasm around the local nine this year extends to the team’s radio broadcasts, too. For the first half of the season, Red Sox games on WEEI-AM were down 16.5 percent, to 107,500 listeners. The coveted male 25- to 54-year-old demographic was down 28 percent, posting a 10.2 average. It should be noted that the Celtics’ run in this year’s NBA playoffs required the relocation of 20 Red Sox broadcasts this spring from flagship WEEI-AM to WRKO-AM.

Mike McLaughlin, a 43-year-old cardiologist who grew up and still lives in the Boston area, is a lifelong Red Sox fan. But he has watched fewer games on TV this year and is hearing similar stories from his friends. He cited a lack of star power on the team as one of the reasons there’s less enthusiasm around the team. This year’s players don’t have the same draw as those from previous years’ teams, which included the likes of Manny Ramirez or, even, Jason Bay.

“People expected a bigger splash in the offseason,” McLaughlin said. “There’s a general feeling that the ownership took a pass on this season, and I think you’re seeing fans question why they should invest in it.”

The Red Sox did sign John Lackey and Adrian Beltre last winter, leading Craig to wonder, "Has it really gotten to the point that unless a $100 million free agent comes in that fans consider ownership 'taking a pass?'"

In a word: Yes.

With this franchise, anyway.

Maybe.

I think the offseason -- during which management talked a lot about that exciting strategy, "run prevention" -- helps explain the TV (and radio) ratings. I think the Celtics' and Bruins' playoff runs helps explain the ratings. And I think there's one more thing that somehow hasn't come up yet: the Red Sox have spent most of the season in third place.

Fans like winners. Especially when they're used to winning. Right or wrong, for at least a month it's been widely assumed that the injury-ravaged Red Sox simply aren't going to keep up with the Rays (let alone the Yankees) this season. A small but significant percentage of fans simply won't be as motivated to watch (or listen) when the future's not quite so bright.

I'm going to say it's one-fourth the offseason, one-fourth the Celtics and Bruins, and one-fourth being in third place all summer. For the other fourth, you can come up with your own theories.

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One fairly surprising note from the piece: the Angels of Anaheim have the second-worst share in the majors, just a hair ahead of the A's. And it's not because of the standing; the Angels' ratings are actually up nearly 12 percent from last year. There might simply be some measurement issues here. But I'm guessing they've got a low share because the entire metropolitan area is being measured. And while the Angels are presumably popular in Orange County, I suspect the rebranding simply isn't having the desired effects. And I suspect that someday, that rebranding will be seen by ownership for the tomfoolery that it's always been. Los Angeles Angels, indeed.