Live sports viewing has, over the last several seasons, been touted as the last bastion of linear TV in an ever-changing media landscape where viewers are seeking out more on-demand and on-the-go options for viewing. But even with the power of event-style programming, overall sports viewing hasn’t been immune to these changing consumption habits, with many major leagues seeing declines.
It has been no different for one of America’s oldest sports, as the MLB’s national audience has continued to grow older and see consistent declines in live ratings. But over the past few years, the MLB has been working behind the scenes to build its digital company, MLB Advanced Media (or MLBAM for short), into a full-blown digital tech company, that has even been enlisted to work with the likes of the NHL and ESPN.
That investment has led to the recent acquisition by Disney of MLBAM’s spin-off company BAMtech, with a one billion dollar investment and a 33 percent ownership stake. BAMtech will work with ESPN to help create a stand-alone streaming service for its properties.
While it was strengthening its technology offerings, MLB TV ratings continued to slip during the regular season, including a six percent decline among adults 25-54. This has been happening for nationally televised games for some time, leading us to believe that local coverage, while more expensive, may be a better investment for reaching engaged fans (read more in our recently released Sports Report).
The playoffs saw significant viewing gains on FOX Sports 1 and the MLB Network, driven primarily by the Chicago Cubs’ path to the championship. However, those increases were more than offset by plunging numbers on Turner’s TBS and TNT, leaving playoff viewing down as a whole year-to-year.
Once the World Series rolled around however, the draw of perennial underdogs the Chicago Cubs, playing for a chance to end their 108 year championship drought, drew viewers back to live television. Their competition, the Cleveland Indians, were also battling a decades-long ring-less streak, which only heightened the story line. In addition to going the full seven games, the final match-up was a nail-biter that had the TV audience on the edge of their seats. Overall, it was a rare confluence of events, but did prove that the right match up can still get people in front of the set–in real time.
Across seven games, the 2016 World Series saw growth across all key demos, including a 68 and 66 percent increase among adults and men 18-34. It’s also of note that the 2016 World Series was the highest rated among adults 18-49 since the 2004 competition that pitted the polarizing Boston Red Sox against the St. Louis Cardinals.
FOX is reporting that their FOX Sports Go app saw tremendous growth across the entire MLB season. Among unique streamers, the regular season, division series, championship series, and World Series saw growth of 157, 89, 272, and 275 percent, respectively.
On the social front, Canvs is reporting a 316 percent tweet increase for game 7 of the World Series, increasing from 1.27 million to 5.29 million. It was far and away the most-tweeted about event of the past week, beating out the CMA Awards, The Walking Dead, and NFL Football, and reactions from the commentators were overwhelmingly positive.