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Baseball has good chance to draw big playoff ratings

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Major League Baseball should be happy. The table is set for stronger post season television ratings.

The playoffs got off to a great start Tuesday night when the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Baltimore Orioles in the win-or-go-home Wild Card Game, 5-2 in 11 innings. Better yet, it was a walk-off home run by the Blue Jays’ Edwin Encarnacion that sent his team to Arlington to face the Texas Rangers on Thursday night.

But exciting games have not been the elixir the sport needs to attract viewers in recent years. It is the participants that drive the ratings.

The National League should be gold with the three major markets, plus Washington, DC all covered. It starts with Chicago and the Cubs.

Will Joe Maddon be the first Cub manager in 108 years to lead his team to a World Series championship? Or will he, at the very least, be the first in 71 years to win the National League Pennant? Even those who hate the Cubs should be tuning in hoping the Billy Goat Curse” endures for yet another season.

Buster Posey and the San Francisco Giants are back in the playoffs. And why not? It’s an even-numbered year.

The Giants won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Is 2016 another year for them?

Fox Sports, who will telecast the National League Divisional Series, is quietly rooting against the Giants’ opponent in tonight’s National League Wild Card Game. The New York Mets are defending their 2015 National League Pennant.

Fox would like nothing better than to see a repeat of last year’s NL Championship Series between the Mets and Cubs in the divisional series this year. For those thinking the Mets are still the poor step children of the Yankees, think again. This season, the Mets had better local television ratings than the Yankees.

While the Cubs will attract viewers just because of their history, a rematch with New York would generate big ratings – at least when compared to recent years. There are other opportunities for increased viewership.

Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers are taking on Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals. While neither team can come close to matching the interest generated by the Cubs, these are high profile teams that should produce interesting games.

The American League does not have the drawing power of the five National League teams. Texas, Cleveland and Toronto are good teams but not ratings magnets. Then there is the Boston Red Sox.

Boston has Red Sox Nation spread around the country, but they are countered by a strong #NeverBoston contingent. Numerous Rays’ fans are card-carrying members of the latter. At the same time, the majority cannot help but wish retiring Designated Hitter David Ortiz well.

Just a few short years ago, Boston was the Chicago Cubs of the American League. Now they are perennial contenders. When Chicago finally breaks through, they will join the Red Sox in that category.

What would ratings look like if it was the Cubs taking on the Red Sox? Or maybe a rematch of the 1986 classic between the Red Sox and the Mets? No World Series has done better ratings-wise than that memorable struggle 30 years ago.

Last year’s World Series between the Mets and Kansas City saw ratings climb more than six percent over the previous year’s contest between Kansas City and San Francisco. New York should get credit for that rise in viewership.

Another opportunity for baseball is the falling NFL ratings. No matter the reason, can baseball pick up some of those tuning out NFL games?

The NFL, plus baseball games ending well past midnight, have led to the sport’s diminished post season stature. For those who do turn to baseball in October, there are several potential history-making story lines.

More people are likely to check them out this time around.

 

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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