Tampa Bay Rays TV ratings and fanbase engagement

For years, people in the Tampa Bay area have said the television ratings for the Tampa Bay Rays are above average. Since TV numbers are not as easily accessible as daily attendance, we are at the whim of ratings reports, such as those from Nielsen and other ratings companies.

On Tuesday, sports business writer Maury Brown of Forbes.com acquired the latest ratings data and listed them for all MLB teams. According to Brown,

29 U.S.-based clubs in the league, 12 of them are the #1-rated programming in prime time since the start of the season in their home markets, beating both broadcast and cable competition. These teams include the Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants, and Arizona Diamondbacks.

Another 7 teams rank in the top three in local prime time TV ratings on their respective RSNs, including the Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres, and Colorado Rockies.

According to Brown’s chart, the Rays are 13th in MLB in television household ratings with a rating of 4.32 and are seen by 79,000 households in the market. Rays broadcasts are only broadcast in MLB that was the 2nd highest rated show in the market. 12 were number 1, six were number 3, and the other 8 were 5th through 9th in their markets. This data also does not include the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros as they are currently in broadcast negotiations with their cable companies.

On Wednesday, Cork Gaines of Rays Index and Business Insider took Brown’s numbers and added them to attendance to compute how many people on average watch each team per game. For the Rays, Cork added the 79,000 to the average attendance of just under 18,000 to show the average fan audience for the Rays is slightly under 100,000. That puts the Rays at 16th in the league (again omitting the Dodgers and Astros), under the Diamondbacks but a bit above the Orioles.

The comparison with the Orioles is interesting, especially when considering the similarity of metro population size of Baltimore and Tampa Bay (2012 estimate):

  • Baltimore metro population: 2,753,149
  • Tampa Bay metro population: 2,842,878
  • Orioles broadcast average households: 66,000 (6.03 HH rtg)
  • Orioles average attendance: 30,380
  • Rays broadcast average households: 79,000 (4.32 HH rtg)
  • Rays average attendance: 17,701

Totals Fan Engagement (households plus attendance):

  • Orioles: 96,380
  • Rays: 96,701

Percentage of population engaged (total fan engagement divided by metro population):

  • Orioles: 3.50%
  • Rays: 3.40%

So if 2,843 more people watched the Rays or went to Tropicana Field, the Rays would have the same population engagement percentage as the Orioles, a team with a similar population, much more famous ballpark, and over 100 years of history.

Other teams with similar market populations include San Diego (3.17 million), St. Louis (2.9 million), Pittsburgh (2.6 million), and Kansas City (2.37 million). According to Cork’s chart, St. Louis and Pittsburgh rank well above the Rays and Orioles, while San Diego and Kansas City are far behind.

In regards to revenue, it would be logical to think attendance is more valuable. After all, game attendees buy tickets, beer, and hot dogs. But with the value of sports television deals as high as they are, ratings and folks sitting at home watching the game are quite important as well.

Interestingly, Wendy Thurm of Fangraphs acquired some slightly different numbers on household ratings in her article on July 17th. But Thurm closes with a very important point:

The local TV ratings provide useful information, but they are only a snapshot, and even then, just a piece of the larger puzzle that is fan engagement. The other pieces include attendance, radio listeners, social media, and merchandise sales.

Despite the small difference in data, Thurm’s article is definitely worth checking out.


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