In viewership terms, game 7 of the World Series amounted to a bloop single. The contest that saw the Washington Nationals clinch their first ever championship, with a 6-2 win over the Houston Astros, drew a TV audience of nearly 23 million.
But that Nielsen Media Research figure of 23,013,000 viewers on Fox, peaking at 27,058,000 viewers, represented the lowest total for a game 7 in this decade. The 2016 win of the Chicago Cubs over the Cleveland Indians in extra innings tops that list at 40,045,000 viewers.
The most-watched World Series game 7 ever remains 1991’s 10-inning victory of the Minnesota Twins against the Atlanta Braves, which drew 50.3 million viewers in a far less-divided viewing environment.
The Sports Business Journal’s Eric Fisher noted that the average audience of 13.9 million over this year’s World Series “beat only the viewership average for the 2012 matchup between San Francisco and Detroit, a four-game sweep for the Giants, and a rain-marred 2008 clash between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.”
Michael Greeson, president and director of research at The Diffusion Group, said both the franchises involved and a fragmented audience explained those low numbers.
“If the Yankees or Cardinals or (insert the benchmark franchises) were in the World Series, the results would be different—that much is true,” he wrote in an email. “That being said, it’s simply getting more difficult to hold on to a national TV audience for more than a game or two.”
The audience for Game 7, for example, dwarfed the 12,194,000 viewers of game 1, in which the Nats held on for a 5-4 win over the Astros. “The national TV audience tunes in in droves when it really matters but otherwise watch the headlines and clips,” Greeson said.
Reversing what he called “a product of our love affair with the internet and the on-demand economy” would be tricky, he added.
“The NBA has done a decent job of reaching out to the internet generation (promoting stars as YouTube personalities, for example), while MLB has lagged,” he said.
One example of baseball trying to change that: its “We Play Loud” commercials aired throughout the series to highlight the antics of such younger players as Washington left fielder Juan Soto, who turned 21 in the middle of a series that saw him bat .333 and smash three home runs.
In the Washington area, where no MLB franchise had won a World Series title since 1924, viewership numbers told a different story. That game 7 earned a 31.8 rating (meaning 31.8 percent of televisions were tuned to the game) and a 53 share (53 percent of TVs actually turned on had the game playing).
The Washington Post’s Ben Strauss noted that D.C.-area viewership peaked as the Nats closed out their upset of the Astros, with a 39.2 rating and 74 share.