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Why ALCS TV ratings are higher even while games are longer

Despite featuring two small-market teams, the ALCS is pulling strong TV ratings.

(Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)

This year’s ALCS is unlike those of years past. No Derek Jeter, no David Ortiz, no Miguel Cabrera, and no big-market matchups. On paper, this series looks dull. The Baltimore Orioles haven’t been to the ALCS since Cal Ripken Jr. was a 36-year-old third baseman, and the Royals haven’t seen postseason action since 1985.

Viewers could have easily tuned out this year’s ALCS, but instead they have stuck around. In fact, an average of 5.9 million viewers watched TBS’ broadcast of Game 1 of the ALCS, up nine percent from last year’s popular NLCS Game 1 (also on TBS) between the Dodgers and Cardinals, a 13-inning contest that ended in Carlos Beltran’s walk-off single. Saturday’s Game 2 registered 4.3 million viewers as opposed to 3.4 million in last year’s comparable NLCS game, a 26 percent increase.

These increases are coming despite the fact that the Royals and Orioles are two of MLB’s smallest-market teams, combining for the smallest market sizes in ALCS history. So what explains the increase in TV ratings?

Novelty of Two Underdogs

(Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports)
(Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports)

Its been over a decade since the Orioles have been relevant, and nearly 30 years for the Royals. It wasn’t too long ago that the Royals posted back-to-back-to-back 100-loss seasons and were consistently drawing fewer than 20,000 fans per game. And from 2006-2011, the Orioles turned in six consecutive seasons with at least 90 losses.

This year also marks the first time since 1997 that a team from New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Dallas/Arlington or Detroit has not been in the ALCS; the 1997 ALCS featured the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians. Considering TBS’ 2012 match-up between the Tigers and Yankees was the lowest rated ALCS ever, it’s safe to assume that a change in scenery was welcomed by TV broadcasters.

Now baseball fans have something new to cheer about. The 2014 ALCS is a new story, featuring the “blue” hot Kansas City Royals and the surging Baltimore Orioles. It is exciting and even somewhat refreshing for fans across the country.

Extra Innings Excitement

Despite the fact that extra-innings games are averaging nearly four hours and 45 minutes this postseason (107 minutes longer than average regular-season game), television ratings are up.

There have been five extra-innings games in the 2014 postseason. While baseball has taken recent criticism for losing viewers due to the length of games, fans this October don’t seem to mind. In fact, the five extra-innings games that have been played this postseason have averaged a more than 5 percent increase in TV ratings versus comparable 2013 games.

The Royals have won all four of their extra-innings games this postseason. The Royals-A’s American League wild card extravaganza drew 5.2 million viewers and a 3.3 rating for TBS, up 10 percent in ratings and 12 percent in viewership from last year’s wild card game.

Addition of the Wild Card Game

Since the addition of an extra wild card spot in 2012, the one-game playoff has helped increase interest in the MLB postseason and kept fans watching.

Total MLB postseason viewership in 2013 increased 20 percent from 2012, and as of October 8 (through the first 16 games of the postseason), 2014 has shown a 9 percent increase in total viewership. The addition of the one-game wild card playoff has added two additional fan bases to postseason viewership totals. In addition, it gives fans a more interesting story to follow throughout the duration of the playoffs. Despite being considered underdogs, the Royals pulled off an incredible 12-inning walk-off victory against the A’s, sending them to the ALDS for the first time since 1985.

A story like this will keep viewers coming back for more each night.

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