White Sox local ratings collapse into basement

Rebuilding team has trouble drawing viewers; Cubs’ ratings grow; Cardinals top MLB

In a signal the “rebuild” isn’t chugging along as it should, the Chicago White Sox’s season ratings fell into a ravine this season.

According to Nielsen and Forbes, the White Sox fell into last place among Major League Baseball’s 29 teams, averaging a 0.68 household rating on NBC Sports Chicago for the 2018 season – down 23 percent from 2017 and averaging a scant 22,000 homes – down 26 percent from last year. Outside of Chicago Fire games, it is the lowest rating any Chicago sports team has earned since 2007 when the Blackhawks wound up with equally bad ratings before the team’s rebirth.

To be fair, a significant amount of games did air on Tribune Media’s WGN-TV, as ratings were not available. But you can imagine they probably weren’t any better.

The ratings average for White Sox game put them in the same range of second and third-tier syndicated programming in the Chicago market, mostly programming airing over CW affiliate WPWR and WCIU. At least the White Sox can brag about outdrawing WCIU’s The Jam morning show.

This puts the White Sox as one of the least-watched teams in all of major sports (again, excluding MLS.) Other teams with lower ratings include the NHL’s New York Islanders, Anaheim Ducks, Florida Panthers, and Los Angeles Kings and the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks, and the Los Angeles Clippers. In fact, the Islanders and Kings (along with the New Jersey Devils) decided to shift their radio broadcasts online as they didn’t even bother trying to find a terrestrial outlet for their product (the White Sox were able to avoid this fate by signing a last-minute pact with WGN-AM when their WLS-AM deal was terminated due to Cumulus’ bankruptcy.)

The lower numbers were expected as the White Sox lost 100 games for the first time since 1970, also at a time when the team was dealing with a shrinking fan base. The White Sox are currently in a “rebuild” process, with interest among casual fans almost non-existent. Even if the White Sox build back into a contending team, it is going to be tougher to attract viewers – especially younger ones in a sport perceived as older-skewing.

On the other side of town, the Chicago Cubs showed some growth with a average 5.0 household rating on NBC Sports Chicago for the 2018 season, up 12 percent from last year and up slightly from their 2016 World Series Championship year. Once again, over-the-air broadcast numbers were not available as the Cubs are looking to launch their own regional sports network in 2020. The Cubs (along with 23 other teams) ranked first among competing cable networks in prime-time with the Cubs topping the entire Chicago market (broadcast networks and other local stations) in some instances.

Topping all MLB teams once again are the St. Louis Cardinals with an average 8.1 rating, followed by the Boston Red Sox (7.3) and the Cleveland Indians (6.8). Unlike Chicago, all games for these teams air on regional sports networks. The Atlanta Braves had the biggest increase (+79%); the Baltimore Orioles had the biggest drop (-56%) as the team recorded 113 losses in 2018.

According to the data, neither team was able to “generate more viewing” than popular entertainment programming in the third-largest market where as this was the case elsewhere – for example, the Indians and Cardinals generated more viewing the top fifteen network television shows in their markets combined (or so they say.)  But this is a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison as prime-time sports are generally 2 1/2 to 3 hours in length as opposed to a entertainment show, generally running from an half-hour to two hours.