The Royals didn’t win much on the field in 2018, but they certainly won in the television ratings.
Forbes has the numbers, and with the year-end ratings in the books for the just completed season, the Royals had a 4.89 rating, good for an average of 44,000 households. Their rating was the sixth highest in baseball.
Four of the teams above the Royals made the postseason. The one team that failed to qualify, the Cardinals, are traditionally a strong television market for baseball and made a late season push for the playoffs. The Royals are keeping good company.
The numbers for the Royals declined as the season continued, which was a bit bizarre. The team was awful in the first four months of the season, yet up to the All-Star break, they held a 5.07 rating with 46,000 average households. The club lost some ratings ground when the team started to play better in the latter part of the season. Perhaps viewers gave up at some point and didn’t return. It’s probably safe to assume that viewership follows where a team is in the pennant race after the All-Star break. If you’re in the hunt for the postseason, the ratings increase over the second half. Still, it’s impressive the Royals, at one point on pace for 114 losses, were able to hold on to as many television sets as they did in this, their first season of a true rebuild.
All of this matters as the Royals are cruising into the negotiation of their next television deal.
The Royals are earning around $20 to $25 million per year in their current television agreement. That is an absurdly low amount, given what the Royals provide on their end of the deal. They are the number one program, not only on cable, but in the entire market. And it’s not even close. As Forbes points out, the Royals generate more viewership in Kansas City than the top 13 primetime shows combined. Combined! That’s known as lapping the viewership field.
Winning and losing matters, though. Royals’ ratings decreased 42 percent from 2017. That was the second largest decrease in baseball, tied with the Tigers and ahead of the 115 loss Orioles who saw their TV ratings nosedive by a whopping 56 percent. That the Royals were able to weather that type of viewership loss speaks well to the market. But it’s not beyond the imagination to think that the longer the rebuild, the lower the plateau will be in the ratings.
In fact, as you would expect, they have been in a steady decline since their peak in the World Championship season in 2015.
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The Royals led all of MLB in TV ratings in ’15 and ’16 and was the runner-up in 2017. Still, the underlying point remains: The Royals dominated TV viewership in Kansas City in each of the last four seasons. And probably for much longer if we dive deeper into the past.
Ultimately, it probably won’t matter because of the impact the team has in the general market as noted above. They’re the number one program by a massive amount. Their ratings would have to crater for the Royals not to be the number one show in primetime in Kansas City in the summer. And that’s what really matters when it comes to the current negotiations.
Advertisers prefer to support live content, specifically sports, with its well-defined target audience and aversion to time-shifting. (That’s the fancy term for using the DVR to record a program and skip over the commercials.) If you feared that there was a TV rights bubble, put those in your back pocket. There is no better content for advertisers these days than baseball. Those rights fees are going to continue to rise and the Royals are in an excellent position to take advantage.
Complicating the negotiations is the future of television. There are now a number of different ways to consume media that was just in their respective infancy when the Royals last negotiated a TV deal. In Kansas City, the Royals can be viewed not only on cable, but on the Fox Sports app. Streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu could be looking to enter the sports television arena. YouTube is already kicking the tires. And somehow in all of this, Facebook has found itself streaming some select games. The Royals could find a combination of cable and streaming lends itself to the best deal. There is an abundance of potential partners that didn’t exist the last time the Royals were in the market for a TV deal. That, along with their traditionally strong ratings given their market, should have the Royals in an enviable position.
According to reporting done by Sam Mellinger, wherever the Royals end up, industry watchers estimate the Royals’ next broadcast contract will land somewhere between $60 and $80 million per year. That’s a lot of money that the Royals can parlay toward accelerating the rebuild. It’s a necessary cash infusion as they roll forward with The Process 2.0.
Fox Sports holds exclusive negotiating rights that end sometime early this month. We could see something very soon on this front. The stakes are high but the Royals are in a strong position to leverage this to their advantage and securing some longterm fiscal stability for their franchise.