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Cardinals face elimination in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Braves

Echo 'Momma Bird' Kimball of Florissant gathers family belongings as her husband, James, carries their son Ozzie Dean Kimball into Busch Stadium for Game 4 of a National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019, a game that did not sell out. The five-month-old Ozzie was attending his 23rd Cardinals game, and his second playoff game. (Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com)

Where have all the Cardinals fans gone?

On Monday, for the first time in the 36 postseason games played at Busch Stadium III, one of those contests did not sell out. And as of early Thursday night tickets for the first two games of the National League Championship Series, on Friday and Saturday in St. Louis, still were available on the Cardinals’ website.

The non-sellout Monday was the fourth game of the Cardinals-Braves best-of-five National League Division Series that the Redbirds won with a blowout victory Wednesday in Atlanta.

But the series, which was tense until the finale, drew comparatively low television ratings in St. Louis. Game 1 was seen in 14.7% of the market, according to Nielsen, which is the worst figure for a Cards NLDS game in their last seven appearances. The rating locally for the next contest dropped to 12.6, the second-lowest figure for a Game 2 in that same time frame.

There was a decisive Game 5 for the fourth time in that span, and the contest Wednesday was the worst-rated (21.3) of those. The St. Louis rating for the series as a whole, all of which was televised by TBS, was 15.6.

There was an extenuating circumstance this season, as none of the games began in prime time. With the games appealing to television executives as the key factor in setting starting times, all Cards-Braves contests started in late afternoon, with the first pitches ranging from about 2-4 p.m. St. Louis is the smallest of the eight markets that were in that round of the playoffs, No. 21 in terms of the number of homes with a TV, according to Nielsen figures. Atlanta is No. 10, and only three of the seven other markets that participated are smaller.

But the last time the Cards were in a division series, in 2015, all the games also began in late afternoon — albeit one a little after 5 o’clock and another at 5:45 p.m., so the bulk of play was in the evening. The opponent was the Cards’ biggest rival, the Cubs, for a matchup Chicago won in four games. The rating in St. Louis for the series surged past this one, at 25.4. The worst rating in St. Louis for a game in that series was 22.9. The best this year was 21.3.

All this comes a week after the Cards completed the regular season with their worst rating in two decades for their Fox Sports Midwest telecasts. Nielsen, which measures viewership, reports that 6.6% of the market tuned in to those games. Although that was No. 1 among U.S.-based MLB clubs, it was a significant drop from last year’s 7.3 figure. Four seasons ago, the rating was 10.0.

There are several theories for the aforementioned declines:

• TV viewership in general is down.

• The starting times for the playoff games were inconvenient.

• The non-sellout game was played on an afternoon when many people were at work or school. Unlike regular-season games for which there is plenty of time to plan to attend because the starting time has been announced well in advance, the time for this one was not set until Friday night — for a Monday game. Again, that’s to accommodate TV.

But it also is true that the announced attendance Monday at Busch (42,203) was the most of the four games played that day, with the others in Minneapolis (41,121), Washington (36,847) and St. Petersburg, Fla. (32,251). And St. Louis far outdistanced Atlanta in ratings for the series. The matchup averaged a 9.0 rating there.

Cardinals ratings in St. Louis are expected to rise as the team surges on.

Hockey comparison

Despite the Cards’ sinking ratings performance in the regular season and NLDS, their playoff ratings still were better than what the Blues drew in their comparable playoff round last spring.

The Blues beat Dallas in a seven-game showdown to reach the NHL’s Western Conference finals, and that series averaged a 15.3 rating. But that figure was bolstered by bigger numbers for games 6 and 7, something that did not occur with Cards-Braves. The five-game average rating for Blues-Jets was 11.0.

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NLDS by the numbers

Ratings in St. Louis and Atlanta for the National League Division Series between the Cardinals and the Braves, televised on TBS. Note: The rating is the percent of the market tuning in.

Game STL ATL
Avg. 15.6 9.0
1 14.7 9.8
2 12.6 8.9
3 16.4 8.9
4 13.1 9.4
5 21.3 7.8