ESPN Connects on Double-Digit MLB Gains

There’s good and bad Nielsen news for ESPN on the diamond.

The worldwide leader registered gains during the first half of its silver anniversary season with Major League Baseball, but the latest iteration of the Home Run Derby, which was delayed by rain, whiffed with many watchers.

Though 42 games, ESPN averaged a 0.9 U.S. household rating and 1.24 million watchers, gains of 13% and 11%, respectively, through the same stage of the 2013 MLB campaign.

As to 25th anniversary run of Sunday Night Baseball, ESPN rang up gains of 8% to a 1.3 rating from a 1.2, and 9% to a 1.98 million from 1.83 million, according to Nielsen data. SNB notched 2 million watchers with its most-recent telecast on July 13, as the Baltimore Orioles topped the New York Yankees (pictured) in a rain-shortened contest.

Meanwhile, network officials report that MLB games on WatchESPN were up 72% in average minute audience and 68% in unique viewers during the first half of the season.

The Home Run Derby, with Gillette supplanting State Farm in the title sponsor part of the lineup, averaged a 3.4 rating and 5.4 million on July 14, off 17% and 19% from its 4.1 and 6.7 million viewers a year ago.

This year’s telecast was hurt by a one-hour rain delay at Target Field in Minneapolis, and perhaps by a new format in which five-man American and National League squads only had seven outs per round, instead of the previous 10.

According to SportsMedia Watch, the 3.4 rating was the lowest for the event since at least 1997 (ratings prior to 1998 were not available), a tad below the 3.5 mark in 2003.

Relative to the Midsummer Classic itself, Fox garnered a 7.0 rating and 11.3 viewers, according to Nielsen fast national data, with its presentation of a 5-3 win for the junior circuit in a telecast that paid tribute to retiring Yankees captain Derek Jeter. That was up 1% and 3% from a 6.9 mark and 11 million watchers for the 2013 event.

Fox’s July 15 telecast marked 3% and 4% advances from the 6.8 and 10.9 million viewers for the 2012 All-Star Game, giving the affair its first back-to-back ratings amelioration since 1993 and 1994, and its best performance since 2010.

Early tune-in for the All-Star Game was strong, as interest in Jeter's final All-Star Game appearance drove viewing 9% to a 7.5 rating for the game’s first full half-hour from 8: 30 p.m. to 9 p.m. The numbers were consistently in each half until 10 p.m. – 12.3 million in the 8:30-9 p.m. period and 12.2 million in the 9 p.m. hour – while the venerable shortstop remained in the game. Jeter was pulled by All-Star Game manager, Boston Red Sox skipper John Farrell, after taking the field in the top of the fourth, to thunderous applause and "New York, New York" playing on the stadium's loud speakers.