Baseball gives ESPN a ratings boost

New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole.
New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole on July 23. Major League Baseball coverage boosted prime-time viewership on ESPN by 228% last week.
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

Coverage of the coronavirus-delayed start of the Major League Baseball season boosted prime-time viewership on ESPN by 228% and Fox’s by 26% over the previous week.

ESPN’s telecast of the season’s first game on Thursday — the New York Yankees’ weather-shortened 4-1 interleague victory over the World Series champion Washington Nationals — averaged 4.075 million viewers, the largest audience for a regular-season MLB game on any network since 2011.

The game was sixth among prime-time cable programs between July 20 and Sunday — trailing three episodes of Fox News Channel’s political talk show “Hannity” and two of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” — and 12th overall, according to live-plus-same-day figures released by Nielsen Tuesday.

ESPN aired six MLB games in prime time between Thursday and Sunday, including games between the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants Thursday and Sunday. The Dodgers 8-1 victory Thursday averaged 2.829 million viewers, 23rd among cable programs and 50th overall. Figures were not available for their 3-1 loss Sunday.

ESPN averaged 1.091 million viewers, sixth among cable networks. It averaged 333,000 the previous week, 27th among cable networks.


Fox’s broadcast of Washington’s 9-2 victory over the Yankees Saturday was 52nd for the week, averaging 2.79 million viewers, its most-watched prime-time program of 30 minutes or more since the May 20 season finale of “The Masked Singer” that averaged 9.005 million viewers.

Viewership was up 331% from the reruns of the game shows “Beat Shazam” and “Ultimate Tag,” which averaged 705,000 and 589,000 viewers the previous Saturday.

Fox averaged 1.58 million viewers for its 15 hours, 40 minutes of prime-time programming, sixth among broadcast and cable networks. It averaged 1.25 million viewers for its 15 hours of programming the previous week, ninth among broadcast and cable networks.

With NBC airing a rerun of “America’s Got Talent,” the most-watched program seven of the eight previous weeks — a streak only interrupted by a rerun — and an episode of “60 Minutes” with three repeat segments updated for the rebroadcast, it finished first for the week, averaging 6.515 million viewers.

In a week where the top 10 consisted of six reruns and four Fox News Channel political talk shows, only two other programs averaged more than 5 million viewers — a rerun of the CBS action drama “NCIS,” which averaged 5.356 million, and the “America’s Got Talent” rerun, which averaged 5.083 million viewers.

The 1-2 finish by “60 Minutes” and “NCIS” gave CBS its third consecutive first-place finish in the network race and 21st in 26 weeks and 26th in the 44-week-old 2019-20 season, averaging 3.13 million viewers.

Fox News Channel was second, averaging 3.045 million. It was followed by NBC, which averaged 2.8 million; ABC, which averaged 2.21 million; MSNBC, which averaged 2.039 million; and Fox, which averaged 1.58 million for its 15 hours, 40 minutes of programming.

CBS, Fox News Channel, NBC and ABC each aired 22 hours of prime-time programming.

With less first-run programming because of the coronavirus pandemic, the combined four-network viewership was down 9.2% from the corresponding week one year ago when “America’s Got Talent” had the biggest audience, averaging 10.128 million viewers. That week, the four programs averaged more than 5 million viewers, and millions of potential CBS viewers were not able to watch the network because its owned-and-operated stations in more than a dozen markets, including Los Angeles, were absent from DirecTV and other AT&T-owned television packages because the two sides were unable to reach an agreement to allow their continued carriage.

ABC’s viewership was down 28.5%, NBC’s 17.2% and Fox’s 1.3%, while CBS’ was up 10.2%.

Fox News Channel was the highest-rated network for the 27th consecutive week, averaging 3.045 million viewers.


The week’s highest-ranked cable program was Thursday’s edition of “Hannity,” which featured an interview with President Trump, which averaged 4.348 million viewers opposite MLB’s season opener. It was fifth overall.

MSNBC was second among cable networks for the seventh consecutive week, averaging 2.039 million viewers. CNN was third for the seventh consecutive week, averaging 1.357 million and HGTV fourth, averaging 1.304 million.