As baseball begins its three-day break for the All-Star Game, officials at KTLA-TV Channel 5 are calling their first half-season as "L.A.'s Baseball Station" a success, even though ratings for the newly acquired Dodger games are slightly lower than last year and far behind the two previous seasons.
"The baseball station concept seems to have been accepted," said KTLA general sales manager Tom Arnost. "There's a synergy in cross-promotion and, so far, it's worked well."
In 33 telecasts through last Thursday, the Dodgers averaged a 4.6 rating (228,422 homes), according to figures complied by the A. C. Nielsen Co. Last season, the first 33 telecasts on KTTV-TV Channel 11 averaged a 4.7 rating (229,130 homes).
As the Angels have unexpectedly become contenders in the American League West, ratings for their games have increased 13.3% to 3.4 (168,834 homes) after 23 telecasts. After 23 telecasts last season, when they were destined to finish tied for fifth place in the seven-team division, the Angels averaged a 3 rating (146,253 homes).
KTLA has carried the Angels since the team's inception in 1961. Last year, the Tribune Broadcasting-owned station reportedly paid more than $75 million to acquire the rights to carry the Dodgers for five seasons, beginning this year.
KTTV had been the Dodgers' television home since the team moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn in time for the 1958 season, but Channel 11 dropped them because the increased amount of programming from Fox Broadcasting caused an ever-growing number of scheduling conflicts.
Rozanne McMillan, KTLA's director of research, said the Dodgers' ratings are down because broadcast programming of all types is drawing smaller audiences as the number of alternative TV choices grow.
"You're not going to see the 8 and 9 ratings (for baseball) you saw five years ago," McMillan said. "When you look at it from a competitive standpoint, we're pleased with the numbers."
The Dodgers also expressed their satisfaction.
"We're pleased that we're headed in the right direction with a new broadcasting partner," said Brent Shyer, the team's director of broadcasting. "Their promotional efforts have spurred the ratings. Coming off the season we had last year, we needed a boost. I think next season will be even better."
In 1992, when the Dodgers lost 99 games en route to their first last-place finish since 1905, their ratings fell 40% to 4.3. The season before, with interest in the team buoyed by the $20.25-million signing of hometown hero Darryl Strawberry and the team leading the National League West for much of the season, the Dodgers averaged a 7.2 rating, a 16% increase over 1990's 6.2.
In the early going this season, the Dodgers' ratings fell to some of their lowest levels ever. The team was in a tie for fifth in the seven-team division as late as May 18 while the attention of local sports fans was diverted to the hugely popular NBA playoffs and the Kings' unprecedented run to the Stanley Cup finals.
From May 14-16, when the Dodgers lost three games to the Houston Astros, they drew 2.7 and 3.8 ratings for two KTLA telecasts, sandwiched around a 2.6 for a nationally televised game carried locally on KCBS-TV Channel 2.
But with the team improving and competition from other team sports over, the Dodgers' ratings have picked up. A 1-0 11-inning victory over the Montreal Expos July 4 had a 6.3 rating.
The Dodger telecasts are also doing well from an advertising standpoint, KTLA's Arnost said, although commercial time in some upcoming games is available.
"What baseball games still do very well is to offer an ability to get to that light viewer, not just men, but all adult viewers who may not watch other types of entertainment programming," Arnost said.
To Mitch Urdang, a media buyer in the Los Angeles office of Grey Advertising, the Dodgers are not as attractive to advertisers as they once were because of their lack of on-field success.
"People will want to watch a winner," Urdang said. "(Dodger ratings) follow the performance of the team. If the team does well, ratings will go up."
On the national level, baseball continues to struggle in the TV ratings. CBS may well be on its way to setting a fourth consecutive record-low for its Saturday telecasts. It is averaging a 3 rating (2.8 million homes) for its first seven telecasts, a 16.7% decrease from last year's first seven games.
ESPN is averaging a 1.4 rating (1.3 million homes) in its 74 games through Wednesday, a 12.5% decrease from last year.
Baseball will have a much different look on national television next season. Regular season games will be carried by ABC and NBC, in prime time and on a regional basis. That is expected to result in a ratings increase because the games will be on when more people will be watching television and because games involving a local team draw a much larger audience.
ESPN, meanwhile, is expected to reduce its schedule from six games a week to three--a single game Sunday nights and a Wednesday doubleheader, in order to cut its losses.