The Myth of the Small-Market Series

Even when the current World Series match-up of Giants versus Rangers was just a possibility, I began to hear chatter to the effect of “Bud Selig and Fox are going to hate having two small-market clubs in the World Series.” But, I don’t think Major League Baseball or its broadcast partner are all that upset.

First, while Dallas and San Francisco may not have the historical cachet as big markets, they are not small markets. According to Nielsen, Dallas and San Francisco are the fifth and sixth largest television markets in the country. I didn’t hear similar complaints when eighth-ranked Boston was in the Series. Sure, Yankees-Dodgers would have a lot more households, but unless you want to radically alter the competitive balance of the league to guarantee these markets a place in the Series, a 5-6 match-up is an above-average pairing of media markets.

Second, I don’t think Selig has a preference for which teams make it to the World Series, except for the Brewers. The broadcast contract the League signed with Fox is already in effect. MLB’s television revenue stream is set. And having two new markets host the championship games gets two large and enthusiastic fanbases out spend more money on tickets and merchandise. What about future World Series? If Yankees-Phillies had drawn more fans, then maybe MLB would get more in its next contract. But, this requires quite a bit of naivety on the broadcasters’ part. When looking at the revenue-generating prospects of a World Series, I doubt that television executives blindly look at the the ratings without putting them in context. The rules of baseball make it likely that many “small-market” clubs will get to and advance into the playoffs. Another year of Phillies-Yankees wasn’t going to do much to fool anybody.

16 Responses “The Myth of the Small-Market Series”

  1. Steve Ryan says:

    Do you think the size of the market makes as big of a difference compared to the appeal of the networks? I am referring to TBS v ESPN and the appeal of the Worldwide Leader.

  2. Greg says:

    Indeed, I think I’ll be watching more of this series because it ISN’T Phillies-Yankees.

  3. Glenn says:

    Let’s see…There are 38+ million people in CA and 20+ million people living in TX. Some of those may be lost due to the in-state rivalries in CA (I’m lookin’ at you, Dodgers fans), but it seems to me that an “All-Western” matchup is going to bring a lot of interest from the so-called “fly-over” states, so it’s a wash.

  4. JACE says:

    MLB gives each team 30 million a Year from the proceeds of any and all MLB revenues, Tv, Radio, Products etc. They first and foremost want the highest yielding revenue generating series. Small markets don’t attract large amounts of the casual viewer.

    In 2006 Cardinals vs Tigers, very low ratings.

    In 2007 Boston (a largeer market team) vs Rockies didn’t generate ratings because everybody knew Boston would win.

    MLB wants both ratings/money, and a great fall classic. Small market teams don’t rate high, and rarely repeat.

    The Yankees might be out of the WS, but they generate huge ratings, from the casual fan, the haters and their international fan base, as proven by the latest ALCS ratings, which were the highest ever recorded. People tuned in to see them win/lose, that equals money for MLB, that’s what they love, RATINGS/MONEY.

  5. Rob McMillin says:

    That’s “cachet”. “Cache” is what you have in your computer.

  6. JC says:

    Thanks. Fixed.

  7. Charles from Macon says:

    I’m not sure that the term “small market” means population or television viewing audience. I thought it was meant in terms of revenue generated.

    Of course there will be people in Dallas/ Ft. Worth (Arlington) and San Fransisco watching the Series. Those are not the television markets that the MLB brass and Fox are not concerned with. They are worried about Milwaukee, Kansas City, St. Louis and even New York and L.A..

    The “Big Market” teams generate revenue from all over. A New York Yankees Series will have lovers and haters from every market tuning in. But these “Small Market” teams don’t have much of a fan base outside of their geographical area.

    That is why anything with the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, Braves or Cubs get the national ratings.

    National ratings are what drives the future contract negotiations between MLB and the next network suitor.

    It’s sad to admit but MLB needs the Yankees or Red Sox or Braves or Cubs to keep the ratings up to generate the ad revenue for the network.

    I would guess you’re going to see an overall rating in the 9-11 range with an 18 share. A bit less than 2009 but a good bit more than 2008.

  8. Marc Schneider says:

    I think JC is right, though. Fox realizes it’s not going to get Yankees-Dodgers every year so the assumption that they will be willing to pay more money because of a “big market” series seems unrealistic. I would assume Fox looks at the long-term benefits of broadcasting the WS regardless of who is in it; they aren’t saying, “oh, good, the Yankees are in the Series this year so we will give MLB more money in the next contract.” Fox knows what the ratings have been for the World Series and they aren’t going to change their projections just because of one “big market” or “small market” series. As for revenue generation, I assume most of the revenue has already been generated. I don’t see how the teams playing in the World Series will have much effect on revenue. Yankee fans are going to buy Yankee merchandise whether or not they are in the Series.

    It’s more a matter of perception. Low ratings allow the media to say that the World Series isn’t important anymore. Other than that, it’s probably not that important. Plus, even if there is a short-term loss of viewers due to having “small market” teams playing, there might be a long-term benefit to the extent that fans see more parity in baseball. If you want to generate new fans as opposed to just turning out existing Yankee fans, it helps to have new teams in the Series.

  9. T Hui says:

    Charles, you are totally wrong when it comes to the Giants being a “small market” team and a low revenue team. According to Forbes, the Giants are 9th in total revenue and in a big market. So, they are a big market team.

  10. joe says:

    its true, small(er) mkt teams won’t pull the ratings that the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, etc would….

    seriously doubt that anyone is concerned about the Milwaukee mkt though…

    GO Giants!!!

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