Cubs, White Sox ratings stumble into All-Star break

Lackluster play continues trend of declining sports ratings locally

With the Cubs’ shockingly poor play and the White Sox’s rebuild (there’s that word again), it isn’t any surprise the ratings for both Chicago baseball teams are down from last year as both teams resume play after the All-Star break.

According to Crain’s Danny Ecker, the Cubs – who were 2016 World Series Champions, were down 14 percent from last year to a average 3.6 household Nielsen rating on NBCUniversal-owned CSN Chicago after 42 telecasts. This comes as the Cubs have gone into a surprising tailspin, with the team two games under .500 at the All-Star break. Last year at this time, the Cubs had the best record in baseball en route to their first World Series championship in 108 years.

The team’s play this year has been bad at times. Last Sunday, the Cubs fell behind 10-0 in the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates on the way to a 14-3 loss.

Still, the number spaces higher than two years ago – and the 3.6 actually ranks better than most entertainment programming in the Chicago market – but this isn’t saying much.

Ratings for Cubs games on the team’s broadcast partners – WLS-TV and WGN-TV, were not available. But the cable number does paint a picture of how viewers are reacting to the team’s suddenly poor play. On June 26, a highly anticipated episode of The Bachelorette was delayed to late-night so WLS could air a games between the Cubs and the Washington Nationals, in a game the World Series champs got plastered in (for the record, The Bachelorette – with an African-American lead for the first time, is itself down from last year.)

The city’s absence from MLB All-Star Game (only two players were selected) was felt in the lackluster ratings for Tuesday night’s mid-summer classic – in the household overnights and in final ratings, it was beaten by NBC’s America’s Got Talent and World of Dance and two cable news networks managed to put up strong numbers opposite the game. As great a baseball market this is, Chicago didn’t even rank in the top-ten most watched. Kansas City ranked first among metered markets.

As for the White Sox, the ratings drop for this team was expected as the team is rebuilding. According to Crain’s, the games are averaging an abysmal 0.8 rating – down slightly from last year. The White Sox are on track once again to have the lowest ratings for any U.S.-based Major League Baseball team this season. Once again, ratings for WGN weren’t available, but you can imagine they’re not any better.

The disappointing ratings for the Cubs and White Sox comes as ratings for other Chicago sports teams suffered declining numbers in the past year, notably the Bulls and Blackhawks. Bears ratings in 2016 were down from 2015 and is not expected to be much of a draw next season. As I noted in a previous piece, Chicago sports fans – especially casual ones – are heading toward the exits for other programming as Chicago teams are planning to rebuild for the long haul. Unless they’re die-hard fans, viewers aren’t likely to stick around to watch a team “tank”. This is going to be a huge challenge for CSN Chicago as it tries to market a Bulls team that is projected to lose more than 50 games next season – something not seen since the immediate Post-Jordan era (and the late 1970’s/early 1980s, when Bulls TV ratings and for the NBA in general were barely visible.)

The numbers are also disappointing for advertisers, who were banking on reaching viewers with live local sports as more and more people are time-shifting non-sports programming via DVR or watching online.

Chicago baseball ratings don’t look as dire as they were in 2014 when both the Cubs and the White Sox ranked in the bottom five among MLB teams – but that’s mostly due to higher numbers from the Cubs now compared to then. With Chicago sports in rebuild mode for the most part, Chicagoans better make sure those Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime subscriptions are up-to date.