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The Thrill of October MLB Declines as Playoff TV Ratings Strike Out

The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, the thrill of October baseball - these used to be guaranteed ways to attract viewers to Major League Baseball's postseason. But in recent years, MLB playoff TV ratings have taken a slide, and the 2023 season was no exception. In fact 2023 was the least watched World Series ever and the last four World Series have been the four least watched World Series ever. The decline is real!

The wild card round this year saw an 18% decline in average viewership across ESPN, ABC and ESPN2 compared to 2022, with none of the series going past two games. Sweeps make for uncompetitive games and quick elimination of teams from the playoffs. Fans want to see their teams battle it out and play meaningful October baseball. The expanded 12-team playoff format also means top seeds like the Orioles and Dodgers are forced to sit idle for nearly a week before the next round, disrupting momentum and focus.

Division series viewership across TBS, Fox and FS1 dipped nearly 9% from last year as well. Much of the national draw was sapped with no teams from major markets like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles playing in October for the first time since 2014. Primetime slots were limited too, as Fox chose to air just two division series games in primetime compared to ESPN's wall-to-wall coverage of the wild card round.

Fortunately ratings stabilized for the Championship Series after the wild card and division round declines. Fans tuned in to watch competitive baseball as teams battled to get within reach of the World Series. The Houston-Texas ALCS Game 1 drew over 7 million viewers, the most for an ALCS opener in over a decade. A Phillies-Padres NLCS also promised more entertaining matchups compared to the early rounds.

But the overall trend is concerning for MLB. Since the LCS generally draws more casual fans, the early round declines indicate that even hardcore baseball viewers are losing interest in the expanded playoffs. Too many teams make the cut at 12 compared to just 4 in the old system. Baseball is meant to be played in short playoff series, not bloated tournaments.

MLB needs to take a hard look at its postseason format to bring back the thrill of October. That means fewer playoff teams, more division winners, and no lengthy layoffs for top seeds. The league should want playoff ratings befitting America's pastime, not striking out looking.

Here's a summary of what some fans (redditors) are saying:

  • Many fans expressed frustration at how difficult it is to watch MLB postseason games, especially compared to the regular season. Issues include blackout restrictions, games only being available on cable/premium channels, and streaming access being limited.

  • A big complaint is that fans can easily watch their home team during the regular season, but then can't access many or all postseason games due to exclusivity deals and blackout rules. This especially impacts fans of small market teams.

  • Some fans noted how much easier it is to watch postseason games in other major sports like the NFL, NBA, and NHL. The MLB system was described as antiquated, convoluted, and expensive.

  • Reasons given for the MLB system were TV deals and contracts made solely to maximize short-term profits off exclusive access, rather than making games widely available to grow the sport's audience.

  • Many fans called for MLB to make the postseason more accessible by having games on broadcast stations, reducing blackout areas, and making streaming more affordable and widely available.

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