The Cardinals were 13th in the majors in terms of winning percentage, but No. 1 in local television ratings.
For the 19th consecutive year the Redbirds finished in the top three, including roosting on the top perch three times, for locally produced telecasts of U.S.-based teams. Toronto is not included in the rankings because Nielsen, which tabulates viewership, does not measure audiences in Canada.
Jack Donovan, who has run what now is Fox Sports Midwest since its inception in 1996, marvels at the run of consistency at the top of the list.
“I think that is far more powerful than being No. 1,” he said Thursday. “Teams come out of nowhere, like Cleveland ... winning a World Series and their numbers spike. But to be in the top three for (nearly) 20 years, that’s really remarkable.”
Boston was No. 2 and Cleveland third this season.
Given the lofty ratings picture, Donovan said “we’re not expecting any big changes in our broadcast booth” for next season. However, multiple sources have said that Al Hrabosky, who has provided game analysis for a varying number of contests over the last 34 seasons, won’t return in that position next year but will continue in FSM’s rotation of studio commentators.
He also would be expected to remain as an ambassador for the club, a role in which he makes public appearances and mingles with sponsors.
Donovan, who also runs Fox Sports Kansas City and Fox Sports Indiana, said no decisions have been made regarding Cards announcers. He added that FSM and team officials will meet in a few weeks, when things settle down after the start of the NHL and NBA seasons, to discuss personnel. (FSM airs the NHL’s Blues and Fox Sports Indiana has the NBA’s Pacers.)
THE FLIP SIDE
Despite the momentous run at the top, not all is rosy with Cardinals TV ratings.
Only a late-season surge on the field inched the full season rating above the number from last year, when the Cards had their worst rating in this century. According to Nielsen, an average of 7.3 percent of homes in the market with a TV tuned in to the 145 Cardinals contests FSM showed this year, barely beating the 7.2 figure of 2017. (The rating this season before the All-Star break this year was 6.7, after it was 8.2.)
The rating now has slipped for three consecutive seasons, and not coincidentally the team has missed the playoffs in each of those years after a spree of five postseason appearances in a row that included four trips to the National League Championship Series and two to the World Series, with one title.
The drop from three seasons ago is significant, 27 percent, and comes at a key time — this was the first season of a 15-year deal between the team and telecaster that is worth more than $1 billion.
Donovan points out that 2015, when FSM had its best Cards rating, “was a remarkable season, they won 100 games so we spiked that year.”
In the big picture, declining ratings are the norm in an every-changing environment in which people have either dropped cable TV and/or are consuming much content on demand, days and sometimes weeks after it airs as opposed to the traditional way of watching a show when it is on, or shortly thereafter. Alternative options to traditional TV such as Hulu and Netflix have increasingly grown in popularity, eroding TV ratings across the board.
“The television landscape certainly is changing, the audience has been splintered,” Donovan said. “It’s a combination of things.”
RULING THE ROOST
Sports for the most part has bucked the trend of massive ratings declines, because the live nature of the events makes them something people want to see as they unfold.
“You don’t tape a Cardinals game on Tuesday and watch it Thursday,” Donovan said.
To that end, FSM outperformed the local competition by a significant margin on nights it showed Cardinals games, finishing 36 percent ahead of the nearest foe. When the Cards were on FSM between 7 and 11 p.m., 8.1 percent of homes in the market tuned in. During the baseball season, March 29-Sept. 30, KMOV (Channel 4) was second, 5.2.
FSM also has data that shows that its Cards telecasts generated a bigger audience, in terms of minutes viewed, than the top 15 prime-time programs airing in the market drew combined during the baseball season. Then again, there were nearly 150 Cards telecasts on FSM, most lasting more than three hours, whereas most prime-time shows air only once a week and rarely last more than an hour.
“When you break it down like that, it’s really eye-popping how big this audience is,” Donovan said. “Entertainment shows come and go, they get canceled. ... We look at it for our (advertising) clients as it’s a safe place to put your money because of the stability and consistency — the Cardinals aren’t going to get canceled next year. Even when they’re ‘bad,’ they finish like a game” or two out of a playoff spot. “They always deliver the goods.”
Ernie Johnson won’t be doing the play-by-play for TBS’ telecasts of the Indians-Astros playoff series in the American League, which starts Friday, because of blood clots in both legs. Former Red Sox broadcaster Don Orsillo takes that spot.
“It’s a great time of year, but this year I am not going to be a part of it at TBS,” Johnson said in a video posted on Twitter this week. “I went to the doctor the other day and had a physical, and they discovered blood clots in both of my legs. The doctors have advised me against flying, they put me on blood thinners. ... The best course of action is to just stay grounded at this point, not fly. When you are doing the playoffs, there’s a lot of flights in a compressed time, and blood clots are nothing to be messed with.
“As tough as it is for me to miss baseball’s postseason, it’s the thing to do.”
Johnson continues to host NBA studio shows on TNT, like TBS a part of Turner Sports. Those shows originate from a studio in Atlanta, and Johnson lives in the area. He was on the air Tuesday, when TNT had NBA exhibition play.
“I’m gearing up, staying on the ground, getting ready for basketball season,” he said.
Highest-rated Cardinals telecasts in 2018
|1. Aug. 15||vs. Nationals||11.7||FSM|
|2. Aug. 29||vs. Pirates||11.6||FSM|
|3. April 5||vs. Diamondbacks (home opener)||11.5||FSM|
|4. Sept. 11||vs. Pirates||11.3||FSM|
|5. Aug. 14||vs. Nationals||10.8||FSM|
|6. Aug. 24||at Rockies||10.7||FSM|
|7. June 16||vs. Cubs||10.4||KTVI (2)|
Prime-time TV ratings in St. Louis on nights the Cardinals played this season
CARDS IN PRIME TIME
Prime-time TV ratings in St. Louis on nights the Cardinals played this season. Source • Nielsen
|2. KMOV (Ch. 4)||5.2||61,900|
|3. KSDK (Ch. 5)||4.3||51,200|
|4. KTVI (Ch. 2)||3.2||38,100|
|5. KDNL (Ch. 30)||1.7||20,200|
|6. MSNBC (cable)||1.6||19,000|
|7. KPLR (Ch. 11)||1.2||14,300|
|8. Fox News (cable)||1.1||13,100|
|9. WRBU (Ch. 46)||1.1||13,100|
|10. HGTV (cable)||1.0||11,900|
|11. USA (cable)||0.9||10,700|
|12. ESPN (cable)||0.9||10,700|
Cardinals local television ratings by season in this century
Cardinals local television ratings in this century seasons:
Notes • The rating is the percent of homes with a TV in the market tuning in.
FSM is Fox Sports Midwest, FSN was Fox Sports Net.
Source • Nielsen
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