The Texas Rangers were crowned World Series Champions on Wednesday night. But if a championship is awarded and no one is watching, does it even count? I’m kidding of course, but this World Series has set record lows for viewership numbers. Game 1 was the least-watched Game 1 in World Series history. Game 2 then became the least-watched World Series game ever, before Game 3 took crown in that same category.
Poor World Series viewership is nothing new, and overall numbers have been on a decline since the 1980s. For MLB executives and advertisers, low numbers must be concerning. But anyone with a brain knew the potential for this occurrence given the viewership markets for the Diamondbacks and Rangers. I’m sure the last thing on the minds of any fan of either franchise was how many people were watching, but to the average fan, should we care?
Why we should care
MLB viewership is in a state of flux. Between cord-cutting habits of young audience members, to the bankruptcy saga of Diamond Sports, MLB is at a crossroads. The MLB takeover of the local rights for Padres and Diamondbacks games allowed for the exploration of a direct-to-consumer model that may be the future of MLB viewership. MLB has been behind the times when it comes to viewership innovation. The World Series would be a perfect opportunity to explore alternative options.
Whether on a national or local level, fewer eyes means less money. Less money through TV deals is not good for a league, and your showcase events are major drivers for television deals and advertisers. If you want your players to get paid then you need people watching your sport, bottom line. Fewer eyes should lead to advancement and adaptation to survive. While a low World Series number does not directly indicate a dying sport, it is certainly an indicator of a limited media platform. There is an untapped potential for viewership outside of a traditional media platform and broadcast.
Will low viewership numbers be enough for MLB to adopt alternatives? Possibly, as TV rights deals have seen a small shift to streaming platforms, but I won’t hold my breath — particularly given the fact that this type of number was “expected” this World Series. Bigger markets equal bigger numbers when it comes to Major League Baseball, but that cannot be the only answer. In addition, this low number indicates MLB’s continued inability to market its players properly. Many have pointed to the lack of brand-name stars in the World Series as a reason for a viewership dip. The likes of Adolis García, Corey Seager, and Corbin Carroll should be enough of a draw, but whether casual fans (who would potentially drive the number higher) knew who these players were before the World Series is more concerning. MLB has work to do.
Why we should not care
I think it is clear that my stance is that we should care, and while the labeling of a series as “good” or “bad” based on ratings is hyperbolic, knowing the trends MLB is facing is important for the future of the sport. Regional sports networks saw a seven percent increase in overall viewership for the 2023 season. And while the regional sports network system is broken, baseball will always be a regional sport. Of the four major sports, MLB is the most reliant, revenue-wise, on local media. It does not mean that we should ignore national ratings (It still makes up a large portion of revenue), but local revenue is still a major factor.
Fixing local media viewership and the RSN issues should be a priority for MLB, and the resolutions that come from that will hopefully lead to improvements at the national level. With that being said, some would argue that what one individual chooses to watch and consume shouldn’t be impacted by how many other people are watching. Game 1 of the World Series was thrilling and iconic. Walk-offs in the World Series don’t happen often, and the fact I got to enjoy it as a sports fan was not impacted by whether eight million or 10 million people were watching. Personally, I found the World Series compelling, and seeing fresh faces and teams was refreshing.
I think the answer should at least be somewhere in the middle for baseball fans. For the overall health of the sport, fans should pay attention to ratings to see how the league is progressing. In the moment, when you’re watching a big hit in a World Series game, it is okay to forget about how few people are watching. However, the notion that people should completely ignore the ratings — thus the way that the sports league is funded — is ignorant.