While lots of attention gets paid to attendance figures, there's considerably less attention given to their television ratings. Traditionally, this made a lot of sense. Daily attendance is a huge means of income for teams, and it's something that stares reporters in the face each day when they go to the ballpark. It makes for easy copy -- gosh, look how little this area cares about Team X -- but attendance is also important barometer for a franchises' financial health and viability.
Over the last year, though, that traditional paradigm has been rocked by massive television deals that are reshaping the financial landscape of baseball. ESPN, FOX, and Turner recently renewed their national television contracts with MLB for a total of $1.5 billion per year, effectively doubling what each franchise is currently receiving through national television revenues. Regional television contracts are also on the rise, and team sales have shot through the roof as well in anticipation of an upcoming windfall of TV money coming into baseball.
So while the Rays may continue to struggle with attendance, it's arguable that we're all making too big a deal of how many people the Rays are drawing to the games. While in-person attendance is still an important driver of revenue, going forward, it's looking more and more like television contracts are the biggest ways for teams to grow their revenues and achieve financial stability.
That said, Sun Sports recently released the Rays final 2012 Nielsen rating -- i.e. what percentage of local households tuned in on average each night -- and the result was encouraging:
Viewership for Tampa Bay Rays telecasts saw a significant increase in 2012. The 150 regular season games on Sun Sports averaged a 4.89 household rating in the Tampa DMA, according to The Nielsen Co., up 28 percent from 2011.
Ratings peaked in the month of May after a roaring start to the season in April. Viewership took a slight dip in August before rebounding with a 15 percent month-over-month increase to finish the season strong in September and October.
To put this in perspective, here are the Rays television ratings dating from 2007 to the present:
*From Sports Business Journal, although the original article is no longer available online.
**No source for 2008 data. Determined by the percentage rating change from 2008 to 2009.
***Average of FS Florida rating (3.13) and Sun Sports (3.54).
The Rays' ratings did take a hit in 2011, but they rebounded quite sharply this year. While the full MLB rankings haven't been released yet, considering the Rays had the fifth best television rating in baseball in 2010, they likely fell within the top 10 teams in the majors in 2012 (or at least, quite close). And considering their pre-Longo-injury television ratings were approaching 2010's record pace, they could have finished even better without their mid-season slide.
The Rays negotiated their current deal with Sun Sports back in 2008, and they're locked into it through 2016. If their local television ratings continue to follow their current trendline, regardless of how their in-person attendance fares in the meantime, the Rays could be in for quite the financial windfall at that point.
And hey, you know what else runs through 2016? Evan Longoria's current contract.