It's official: 2020 World Series was least-watched Fall Classic ever

The Los Angeles Dodgers finally tasted victory in October on Tuesday, winning the 2020 World Series. The ratings of the contest itself weren’t nearly as victorious.

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Game 6 of this year’s World Series, a 3-1 Dodgers win to clinch the series, drew in 12.6 million viewers, according to the Associated Press. That made it the most-watched game of the series, but also cemented an ignominious record for the 2020 Fall Classic.

The series ended up averaging 9.785 million viewers per game, shattering the record for lowest average viewership in a World Series, according to The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch. The previous low had been 12.7 million viewers in the 2012 World Series, a San Francisco Giants sweep of the Detroit Tigers.

Here’s how the viewership for each game broke down:

Game 1: 9.195 million

Game 2: 8.950 million

Game 3: 8.156 million

Game 4: 9.332 million

Game 5: 10.059 million

Game 6: 12.627 million

Just how bad are those numbers? Let’s put it this way: The previous record low for viewership of a World Series game was 9.8 million in the 2008 World Series. This year’s World Series came in under that mark four different times.

The fact that a six-game World Series set the average viewership low is especially rough, given that ratings tend to get better as a series goes on. The Dodgers fanbase is also sizable enough that you have to wonder just how bad things could have been had a team in a smaller market won the NL.

Why were the World Series ratings so bad?

CORRECTS TO MOOKIE BETTS, INSTEAD OF AUSTIN BARNES - Los Angeles Dodgers' Mookie Betts scores past Tampa Bay Rays catcher Mike Zunino during the sixth inning in Game 6 of the baseball World Series on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
MLB isn't the only league feeling the ratings hurt. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

We’ve discussed this question before, but it’s worth repeating: There is no single reason for this year’s low national television ratings, and baseball is not alone in seeing fewer viewers tune in.

You can blame pandemic sports fatigue (the NBA and NHL playoffs both ended less than a month before the World Series), you can blame baseball’s aging audience, you can blame a lack of national stars, you can blame the dominance of streaming/social media, you can blame the modern homer- and strikeout-happy aesthetics of the game, you can blame multiple cheating scandals involving World Series winners, you can blame the shrinking numbers of broadcast television in general. You just have to remember the reason is never only something like “baseball is dying” or “the NBA got too political.”

Odds are MLB wished it had better national ratings; if MLB commissioner Rob Manfred could wave a magic wand and gets Super Bowl numbers for every game, he would. However, national television ratings are just one measure of a sport’s health, especially in a sport that is being increasingly identified as a regional product, with casual fans valuing their own team over following national stars.

If MLB were really facing a ratings crisis, the New York Mets wouldn’t be in the process of being sold at a valuation of $2.4 billion despite a pandemic that is hammering the league’s revenue. MLB’s owners are going to be just fine.

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