The New York Yankees earned another day in baseball’s bubblicious postseason with Thursday’s 5-1 win over Tampa Bay, but the team, MLB and network partners now face a decisive Game 5 on Friday. If the Bronx Bombers are eliminated by their AL East rivals from Tampa Bay, any residual hopes for a significant ratings swing will be all but quashed.
While the Yanks weren’t exactly an unsurmountable force during the slimmed-down regular season, finishing 7 games out of first with a 33-27 record while going 2-8 against Tampa, the franchise was the biggest draw at both the national and local levels. Through Tuesday night’s telecast of Game 2 of the ALDS, the Yankees have appeared in six of the season’s most-watched, highest-rated games, including the top-ranked opener against the Nationals back on July 23.
Thus far, Nielsen has processed the ratings data for four of New York’s five postseason outings; the final tallies for last night’s 8-4 loss will hit the wire later this afternoon. The Yankees-Rays series is currently averaging 2.47 million viewers and a 1.5 household rating on TBS, while none of the other four rated Division Series games has managed to top the 1.5 million-viewer mark.
As befits the club that delivers baseball’s largest TV audience, the Yankees have been allotted the most generous time slots on a crowded playoff schedule. Each of its five playoff games has aired in primetime in the Eastern Time Zone, which boasts some 58.1 million TV homes, or 48% of the national base (121 million). Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins haven’t been slotted later than a 2 p.m. ET window since the playoffs began.
A similar not-ready-for-primetime scheme has been cooked up for the far-from-beloved Houston Astros, which on Tuesday afternoon had their latest start to date in TBS’s 4:30 p.m. ET window. (Oakland staved off elimination yesterday with a 5-homer barrage, which brings the series total to 18 dingers.) While the pandemic robbed fans of their chance to boo the sign-stealing, trash-can-banging Astros in person, the opportunity to see justice served, no matter the delay, could help boost the ratings for the upcoming ALCS.
As TBS is televising the AL title series, its ad sales team would be overjoyed to see the Yankees rally past Tampa. Not only is New York leading all comers in the national TV race, averaging 2.22 million viewers and a 1.4 primetime rating since the season began, but it’s also reaching around 930,000 more fans per game than are the runner-up Dodgers.
Those national deliveries were in a sense prefigured by the TV turnout in the hometown markets; YES Network’s live coverage of the Bombers this season averaged an MLB-best 260,592 viewers per game, edging the Dodgers’ 250,959 on Spectrum SportsNet LA. Both clubs obviously benefit from the massive size of their respective stomping grounds; the New York DMA includes 6.82 million TV households, or 6.4% of the total national base, while Los Angeles is ranked No. 2 (5.15 million homes, 4.8%).
While it’s unlikely that even a seven-game set between the Dodger and Yankees would match the dizzying numbers the Cubs and Indians put up in 2016—in putting to rest its 108-year-old curse, Chicago helped scare up 40 million viewers, the biggest audience for a baseball broadcast in a quarter-century—the combination of market size and historical resonance would make for a stellar turnout nonetheless.
Baseball is haunted by nostalgia, which is why the most memorable part of Field of Dreams is when Kevin Costner plays catch with his father’s ghost in a cornfield. Now, unless you’re an arsonist, you probably don’t find yourself reminiscing about the New York of 1978, but if you’re a network ad sales exec, those Nielsen stats from 42 years ago must trigger a longing for the good old days of three channels and a 56 share.
The ’78 Yankees-Dodgers series remains the most-watched Fall Classic in history, averaging 44.3 million viewers and a 32.8 rating on NBC. If Fox manages to average 14 million viewers this year, when broadcast usage is down 32% and a hypomanic election cycle is siphoning off a good deal of casual sports fans, it’ll be in pretty good shape. But a Yanks-Dodgers showdown that went the distance? Twenty million.
Wait ’til next year.