Raise your hand, Houstonians, if you watched Sunday's Cleveland Indians-Houston Astros game on TV. Now everybody look around and marvel at all the hands not in the air.
Sunday's Astros game earned a 0.0 rating in the Houston area, according to Nielsen, which tracks viewership. That's 0.0, as in no one, as in not a soul whose TV habits are tracked by Nielsen tuned in to watch the Astros lose their ninth straight game and league-worst 105th of the season.
The Astros were playing in Cleveland at the same time that the Houston Texans were playing in Baltimore, so it was an easy choice if you're a Houston sports fan. The Texans game, by comparison, was seen in about 526,553 households, according to Nielsen (via the Houston Chronicle). That's 23% of Houston’s 2.28 million TV-watching households.
When we talk about Nielsen ratings, we have to fully admit they're flawed. They suffer from one of baseball's favorite fallacies — the much-maligned "small sample size." To determine TV ratings, Nielsen tracks what a percentage of viewers watch and then projects those figures to 100% of the area. So it's similar to looking at the 12 home runs Justin Upton hit in April and determining that he'll hit 72 by season's end. (He actually has 26 right now).
In Houston on Sunday, Nielsen's data was based on what 581 homes watched. So while the 0.0 rating is a good indicator that there wasn't very much interest in the Astros, it doesn't necessarily mean that not a single person watched the game. That would be both amazingly sad and amazingly difficult to measure.
Another factor at play: CSN Houston, which airs Astros games, isn't available to a good chunk of people in the Houston area because the station doesn't have deals with DirecTV and Dish Network, among other cable providers. The Astros can't really blame anyone but themselves for that, though. The team, along with the Houston Rockets, is part owner of CSN Houston.
So what were people in Houston watching instead of the Astros? From the Chronicle:
NASCAR’s Sprint Cup race from New Hampshire had a 1.3 Nielsen rating on Sunday afternoon in Houston. A “Law and Order” rerun on TNT between noon and 1 p.m. had a 0.9 rating. NFL Network’s screen of NFL score updates had a 0.16 rating. Formula One racing from Singapore had a 0.14 rating on NBC Sports Network. A “21 Jump Street” rerun on Channel 57 from 1 to 2 p.m. had a 0.04 rating. A “Cosby Show” rerun from 2 to 2:30 p.m. on Channel 39 had a 0.5 rating. CNN and Fox News Channel combined for a 0.3 rating from 1 to 2 p.m.
Twenty-year-old reruns of "21 Jump Street" and "The Cosby Show" are more appealing than the 2013 Astros, huh? That's bad.
It makes you wonder if a local station were to air a 20-year-old Astros game, would it have better viewership than a current Astros game? Shoot, probably. The Astros won 85 games in 1993.
Now if it were a 30-year-old Astros rerun and they were wearing those old Roy G. Biv uniforms and Nolan Ryan were pitching, then case closed.