The NFL rules the ratings’ roost from September until the first week in February. That doesn’t mean the league wouldn’t mind an easier path to higher ratings. Major League Baseball’s World Series playoff is the biggest competitor for the NFL in October. Yes, the NBA and NHL season start, but it’s not close to the drama of what MLB provides. The NFL caught a slight break this year, and it could get better when it comes to competition for viewers.
The Chicago Cubs losing the wild-card game was a worst case scenario for the television partners of MLB. Plain and simple a Cubs/Rockies or Cubs/Brewers series was going to outrate the current Brewers/Rockies matchup. The goldmine for Fox would have been a Cubs v. Dodgers NLCS. Chicago is a huge market and the Cubs have a national following. Now Cubs fans will be focusing more on Mitch Trubisky and Khalil Mack rather than Jon Lester and Kris Bryant.
It gets worse for Major League Baseball television partners. Although the Yankees/Red Sox series should do killer ratings for Turner, it’s a short series. That’s simply the way things played out. It’s lucky for Turner that the Yankees won their wildcard game. It’s unlucky for Turner that it’s a shortened five-game series. It will be more unlucky for Turner if the Yankees and Red Sox don’t go the distance in this series. Houston and Cleveland are perfectly fine, but won’t come close to the ratings of the AL East battle. No matter what Turner is losing a major market for the ALCS. If the Athletics beat the Yankees it could have been a more dire situation.
As for the National League, Fox needs to pray that the Dodgers can pull out a series’ victory over the Atlanta Braves. The Braves versus the Rockies or Brewers is not the matchup Fox and MLB executives want to say. They can build up the drama however they want. It won’t draw viewers. Major League Baseball and its partners want the Dodgers to go the distance. They probably want the Dodgers versus the Red Sox or Yankees. That would be more likely if the Yankees and Red Sox didn’t have to play each other in the ALDS and instead were playing in the ALCS. This could have been possible if the playoffs reseeded — the Indians have the worst record of the AL playoff teams and would have played Boston if reseeding occurred.
This is all good for the NFL. There will be playoff games that go up directly against Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football. Those marquee properties have seen ratings increases which is music to the NFL and its owners’ ears. There isn’t any questioning as to why the NFL can’t maintain viewership levels of the past. The NFL is back. The game is fun. It’s healthy. The hand-wringing has stopped. If MLB had the Cubs involved, it could’ve stolen more viewers from the NFL. That would lead to ratings decreases which would put the league and the owners back on the defensive when it came to their ratings. It’s a simple concept that people have to choose the MLB playoffs or the NFL regular season. Big market baseball teams with national followings are more of a threat to the NFL’s good times ratings’ happiness.
Now the NFL will hope for the Braves to beat the Dodgers. It’s not personal. It only helps the NFL’s ratings.