Red Sox ratings on NESN tumble more than 50 percent for Betts-less, fanless season

Jim Davis/Globe Staff
NESN sideline reporter Guerin Austin was one of the few who saw much of the Red Sox live this season, and apparently also among the few who stuck out watching another last-place team all summer.

Red Sox ratings on NESN during the abbreviated 2020 season were as underwhelming as the team’s on-field results.

Viewership of Red Sox broadcasts on their regional cable network during the 60-game season dropped 54 percent compared to the first 60 games of the 2019 season, per Nielsen Media Research data that was first reported by Forbes on Sunday night.

The average television rating for a Red Sox broadcast on NESN was 2.14 this season, down from 5.15 through the first 60 games of 2019, a drop of 58 percent. (NESN averaged a 5.25 across all 162 games last year, that down more than 20 percent from the dominant 2018 season.)

Several factors played into the precipitous drop. In February, they traded popular All-Star outfielder Mookie Betts and starting pitcher David Price to the Dodgers. Pitcher Chris Sale required Tommy John surgery and did not pitch this season, while fellow rotation staple Eduardo Rodriguez missed the season while recovering from COVID-19.

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The Red Sox didn’t begin their season until July 24 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, then lost 18 of their first 24 games — including nine in a row from Aug. 10-18 — on the way to finishing 24-36, last in the American League East. The Bruins and Celtics, meanwhile, were both in the playoffs of their restarted seasons.

Also, the decision to start home games at 7:30 p.m., when many more fans than usual were home because of the pandemic, was not well received.

“Given our incredibly disappointing season on the field, and that we were out of contention less than halfway through the season, it is no surprise our ratings were way down,” said Red Sox president and chief executive officer Sam Kennedy in an email.

“While it is difficult to accurately assess 2020 against traditional seasons, we know that playing competitive and winning baseball is what drives interest. We are committed to adding depth and talent throughout our Major and Minor League rosters to put us in the best position for consistent success as we go forward.”

NESN provided similar sentiments in a statement.

“As you know, we had a significant challenge with ratings this season as the team’s performance suffered on the field. We’re always mindful of our audience and continually try to innovate our broadcast to make it more entertaining and engaging. This past season we added the following features: The introduction of predictive gaming and mic’ed up players for the first time ever, as well as adding a third man to our broadcast booth to create a season-long three-man booth with Dennis Eckersley, Dave O’Brien, and Jerry Remy. Despite these efforts, our ratings declined due to the team’s on-field performance.

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“As we look forward to the 2021 season, we are very hopeful that an improved baseball performance will position us for a rebound in ratings, and we were very encouraged by the 18 percent increase in ratings for our younger demographic of Adults 18-34 this season.”

In large part due to the first-time inclusion of viewership from digital consumers in Nielsen’s numbers, regional cable networks overall saw a ratings dip of more than 10 percent despite average viewership of their MLB broadcasts rising more than 4 percent. (More people overall watched, but a fewer percentage of households with a television were tuning in.) MLB did see significant viewership jumps in younger demographics, including the 18-34 (up 53 percent), 18-49 (up 31 percent), and 25-54 (up 16 percent) age groups.

The Yankees had the highest average viewership (260,592), while the smaller-market Indians had the highest average rating (6.61). Red Sox average viewership was 72,515, 14th among the 25 teams/networks tracked by Nielsen.

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