Cubs, White Sox bleed viewers

Okay, Lucy. Time to get out of the pool, baseball season is over.
Okay, Lucy – time to get out of the pool. Baseball season is over.

Disastrous season on both sides of town had fans fleeing for the exits – but at least they’re not the Astros

After the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup June 24, most local sports fans checked out for the summer, thanks to the inept play of both the Chicago Cubs (66-96) and Chicago White Sox (63-99), each finishing last in their respective divisions.

Both teams combined for a whopping 195 losses – the most in history. And with the losing comes lower attendance – the North Siders finished 12th in attendance – the lowest since 1998, while the South Siders finished 24th. Each were down from the previous year.

In fact, both teams played so bad, their on-field play makes The Goldbergs and The Mindy Project more watchable (now that’s bad.)

Nielsen numbers for regional sports networks (RSNs) complied by Sports Business Journal showed ratings for Cubs games were down 9 percent from 2012, while the White Sox plunged 45 percent, both on CSN Chicago.

Numbers for WGN-TV (where the Cubs and White Sox both air their over-the-air games) and for cable superstation WGN America, were not available.

The White Sox’s 1.1 household rating finished 28th out of 29 U.S.-based Major League Baseball teams, ahead of only the Houston Astros’ 0.4 (ironically, both teams met in the 2005 World Series, which now seems an eternity ago.) The Astros were down 59 percent from 2012, marking the largest year-to-year drop of any MLB team. The benchmark of futility was achieved on Sept. 22 when an Astros game airing on CSN Houston delivered a landmark 0.0 rating in Houston, drawing fewer viewers than infomercials and reruns of The Cosby Show and 21 Jump Street.

Last week, CSN Houston involuntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, after two seasons of unable to strike carriage deals with the region’s cable and satellite companies. The inability to do so has limited the reach of the RSN; only 40 percent of Houston-area households receive CSN. The Astros are fighting the move; the team said Comcast wants out of the deal. The Astros also allege they haven’t received rights fees from the “Houston Regional Sports Network”, the legal name for CSN Houston.

Comcast, The Astros, and the NBA’s Houston Rockets are part-owners in CSN Houston.

As for the White Sox, the 1.1 rating ranks it only ahead of the MLS’ Chicago Fire and WNBA’s Chicago Sky – all this for the worst-fielded team since 1970, when the White Sox went 56-106.

Chicago wasn’t the only market whose baseball teams suffered ratings losses. New York’s Mets and Yankees also suffered ratings declines as their teams missed the postseason. Ratings drops were also recorded in Miami, Philadelphia, Dallas (home of the Texas Rangers – and this despite being in the pennant race), and Seattle, among others.

Fox also suffered a soft MLB regular season – their ratings often hit season lows this year, with a recent Giants-Yankees game drawing only a 1.0 household rating, perhaps the lowest ever on record for a baseball game on national broadcast TV.

But in midst of the doom and gloom, there were positive stories – the Detroit Tigers had the highest local ratings in all of MLB, leading the way with a 9.6 rating, up 5 percent for FSN Detroit. The Los Angeles Dodgers also scored a 40 percent increase for Prime Ticket (next year, the Dodgers are moving to TimeWarner Cable SportsNet.) Baseball also saw its biggest growth in “small” markets, with six of them posting huge ratings increases. For example, an improved record led the Kansas City Royals to post a 71 percent increase from 2012, on FS Kansas City. Ratings increases were also registered by the Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Baltimore Orioles – all of them in pennant races this year.

In addition, ESPN’s Sunday Night baseball ratings were up 6 percent.

It seems the power has shifted a bit from large markets to smaller markets like Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh – which is not bad for the game. But will it be bad for Fox and TBS, where large-market teams have more of an effect on ratings than “small” markets ones when it comes to the postseason?

But one thing is for sure… you won’t see Chicago’s baseball teams in the postseason anytime soon. The only place you’ll see them in October is on the golf course.