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How Concerned Should MLB Be About Declining LCS Ratings?

Ryan Mayer

Baseball's league championship series in both league's have provided plenty of late-game controversy and heroics. In the NLCS, Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado was accused of being a "dirty player" by members of the Brewers after stepping on first baseman Jesus Aguilar's foot in Game 4. Over in the A.L., the Astros and their fans were upset over a fan interference call that took away a potential two-run homer from Jose Altuve. However, that drama hasn't translated to much of a ratings boost.

While ratings for Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS did show increases year-over-year, overall, the two series have seen a decrease in the ratings compared to last season. According to Sports Media Watch, every LCS game in both leagues through Monday had seen a decline when compared to last year. That trend continued on Tuesday night with Game 4 in the NL and Game 3 in the AL both posting decreases in viewership.

That leads to an obvious question. Should MLB be concerned?

The answer is, well, not really. As Jon Lewis, creator of Sports Media Watch said in a phone interview today, sports TV ratings tend to ebb and flow year-to-year. When looking at this year's ratings in particular, there's a couple of factors to consider.

"You had the Yankees and the Cubs last year, you don't have them this year, and that is a huge part of it," said Lewis. "Especially in the N.L., the Cubs were there for three straight years and served as the draw for viewers while playing a pair of big market teams in the Dodgers and Mets. Instead of the Cubs, you have the Brewers in there which is the smallest-market team in the NLCS since 2014 (St. Louis Cardinals). That's a factor."

"Then, on the American League side, you have the fact that it's always going to be tough to match the draw of the Yankees even with a great series like Red Sox-Astros," said Lewis. "That's what I would pin it on."

One other thing to consider is the league's focus on the sport being a regional powerhouse. National TV games in the playoffs are far behind even a measly Thursday night regular season game with the Denver Broncos blowout of the Arizona Cardinals on Fox last night generating a 6.6 rating while the Red Sox clinching win drew a 5.0 overnight rating. However, baseball teams dominate their local market TV ratings throughout the regular season. From Lewis' perspective, the league would seemingly rather have it that way.

"Baseball wants it that way it would seem because the national games are mostly blacked out in the local markets with the exception of the FOX games on Saturday and Sunday Night Baseball," said Lewis. "So, your best week night baseball rating is going to be on par with the worst weeknight NBA rating because baseball does not prioritize national TV in the regular season. When you go with that regional focus, one, you're going to get less TV money because networks aren't going to pay as much for inventory that is blacked out most of the time. And, two, you put yourself in a position that when you get to this time of the year, people have been watching their own team all year and they haven't been watching the national window of games. That definitely doesn't help baseball in that sense."

Now, with the focus shifting to the World Series that begins play next week, it's worth wondering if the trend from the early part of the LCS series' will carry over. For Lewis, there's one factor playing into MLB's favor right now on that front.

"One of the good things baseball has going for it is the fact that Boston made the World Series," said Lewis. "If you get Boston versus L.A. you should get good numbers, depending on the length of the series."

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