Every year the American League playoffs and the National League swap stations on your TV dial. Last year Turner had the NL games while Fox had the AL games. This year Turner’s AL wild-card game did poorly in ratings, and ESPN’s NL wild-card did great. Both games were close so that isn’t the reason for the ratings difference. The AL match up did have to go up against the vice presidential debate, but let’s be honest that was boring TV. The AL ratings also didn’t take into account the Toronto market. In any case, I believe this will be a trend the entire playoffs. Fox won the luck of the playoff draw over Turner.
The National League has the following markets — followed by media market rankings: Los Angeles (2), Chicago (3), San Francisco (5) and Washington D.C. (7). That is four of the top media markets in the country. Every single team there has a historical brand — except the Nationals — and rabid following.
Contrast that with the American League which has the large Dallas-Forth Worth (5) and Boston (9) markets with Cleveland (19) and the real kicker Toronto which doesn’t factor into to U.S. Nielsen ratings. The only real historical powerhouse there is Boston.
The other issue is that the National League teams will drive ratings of casual viewers outside of their endemic market. People know the Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, and Nationals. They also know the stars on those teams. Honestly the NL all-star team probably could’ve been filled with just players from those four squads. There are story lines galore. The Cubs looking to win their first World Series since 1908. The Dodgers piecing together a young team and Clayton Kershaw’s battle to win in the playoffs. The even year Giants being back in an even year. Bryce Harper cementing himself as one of the best players in baseball. It is an embarrassment of riches.
Contrast that with the American League. There’s no love lost between Toronto and Texas, but it’s unlikely a casual fan in New York really cares about Bautista v. Odor II. The Rangers have a great team but ask anyone who doesn’t follow baseball to name three players on Texas and that person will struggle to name one. The Blue Jays are filled with personalities, but the American public probably isn’t familiar.
That leaves Cleveland — a young team with Terry Francona as manager — against Boston. The Red Sox are the only selling point for the American League. Francona coached the Red Sox to two World Series before he was unceremoniously shown the door. David Ortiz is on his last playoff run before retirement. Mookie Betts could win AL MVP and Rick Porcello will get some votes for AL Cy Young. The Red Sox are the only card Turner has to play right now.
It’s just the luck of the draw. This year Fox is going to win big on ratings. Turner even got the bad luck of the second presidential debate and NFL football going up against the ALDS. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.