Keeping Score

Why More Fans Aren’t Watching the World Series

World Series ratings are up and winning prime time. But they're still near all-time lows

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Jessica Rinaldi / The Boston Globe / Getty Images

Cacky Mellor sprinkles glitter on the World Series logo at Fenway Park in Boston, Oct. 22, 2013.

Tracking shrinking World Series ratings has become its own national pastime.

With two storied franchises — the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals — squaring off in this year’s Fall Classic, a ratings rebound seemed like a sure bet. After all, last year’s series, between the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers, was the lowest-rated, least-watched series ever. After the first two games of the 2013 series, which is now tied 1–1, Major League Baseball is claiming victory. World Series ratings are up 13% versus last year, MLB announced in a triumphant press release. Thanks to the World Series, FOX was the highest-rated prime time network on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

And oh yeah, the World Series is a Twitter smash. “For the second consecutive night, the World Series was also the most talked about show on Twitter by a very wide margin,” MLB wrote. “Nearly four times as many people tweeted about the World Series than anything else on television on Thursday (221,736 unique authors, +275% over the second place show, according to data from SocialGuide). Overall, they sent 451,665 total tweets, up 63% compared to the number of tweets sent during Game 2 in 2012.”

The folks over at Sports Media Watch, however, put these numbers in a broader context. The headline of one story on the site is “World Series TV Ratings: Game 2 Overnight Third-Worst Ever.” First sentence: “Even with a closer result in Game 2 [St. Louis beat Boston 4–2], the World Series continued to trend toward record lows.” Sports Media Watch points out that the 9.5 overnight rating Fox drew for Game 2 was the third-lowest ever for a World Series Game 2. The last time the Cardinals and Red Sox were in the World Series, Game 2 drew a 17.1 overnight rating on a Sunday night.

(MORE: A Hater’s Guide To The 2013 World Series)

The first two games of this year’s NBA Finals drew overnight ratings of 10.6 and 10.2, respectively, compared to baseball’s 9.4 and 9.5. There’s nothing wrong with losing out to LeBron James, but here’s something scary: the World Series couldn’t outrate Monday Night Football in the overnights. The Oct. 21 game, which pitted the  New York Giants against the Minnesota Vikings, got a 9.5 rating. And that game, an ugly 23–7 Giants win, was extremely difficult to watch. (In the final ratings, the World Series did beat Monday Night Football: Game 1 drew an 8.6 rating and 14.4 million viewers, while Giants-Vikings got an 8.4, and 13.2 million viewers.)

Baseball is not facing an economic crisis — thanks in large part to rich local television deals, the game is pretty healthy. But no matter the spin, a World Series between the Cardinals and Red Sox should not be generating near-record low numbers.  Baseball is connecting locally — it’s become America’s parochial pastime. The sport has made a conscious effort to market the game, and the teams, rather than put a disproportionate focus on the stars. But stars, and compelling characters, excite a national audience.

Beards aren’t enough.

(NOTE: Story updated to include most recent NFL and World Series ratings)

(MORE: The Story Behind The Sports Photo Of The Year)

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