Month of contending, prospect intrigue earn FSD big ratings for Tigers games

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

You can debate about whether the Detroit Tigers' rebuild made progress in 2020.

But the increased interest from the fans was evident in the television ratings for Fox Sports Detroit, which saw a 10% increase in Metro Detroit households tuning in and 7% growth in overall viewership from 2019.

Overall, during the COVID-19-shortened, 60-game regular season, Major League Baseball saw its household ratings decline by 11% and its overall viewership drop by 13%.

From left, Fox 2 reporter Woody Woodriffe, Tigers broadcasters Jack Morris, Matt Shepard, and Fox 2 reporter Ryan Ermanni welcome Craig Monroe wearing a some Opening Day fashion during a pregame show in 2019.

"I'm not surprised by these numbers, but I'm very pleased," said Greg Hammaren, senior vice president and general manager for FSD. "Whether they're at the top of the standings or near the bottom, these fans come out in droves any way they can, whether it's at the ballpark or watching on TV.

"They just love their team."

The Tigers, during their heyday of 2006-14, were regularly near the top of MLB in terms of ratings, but have fallen dramatically in the past several years as the team traded away many of its star players and embarked on a rebuild that has led to four last-place finishes and two No. 1 overall draft picks in the last six seasons.

For 2020, their 3.4 average HH, or household rating, was FSD's best since 2017 for the Tigers. The 3.4 figure represents the percentage of Metro Detroit households regularly tuning in. That equates to nearly 60,000 households.

The Tigers' ratings ranked 11th in MLB for 2020, and their viewership ranked 10th, numbers buoyed by a team that stayed in contention into September, longer than most anticipated.

The numbers also got a boost from the fans' interest in seeing some of the team's highly touted prospects. Casey Mize's MLB debut, Aug. 19 against the Chicago White Sox, was the third-most-watched Tigers game. Opening Day, as usual, ranked No. 1, and the fourth game of the season ranked No. 2. Nine of the top-10 most-watched games came before September.

The appetite for live sports, shut down in mid-March early in the pandemic, played a big factor in FSD's numbers, particularly early in the season, as well.

The Tigers finished the season 23-35 (two games weren't made up), last in the American League Central, after contending for a wild-card spot the first half of the year.

The winning percentage works out to .397, or about 98 or 99 losses if averaged out for a typical 162-game season. FSD acknowledged had this been a normal year and the Tigers continued to lose at the clip, the overall numbers likely would have dipped.

"It's speculation," Hammaren said. "Yes, we would think viewership would follow what it was in 2019, with a slow, steady decline."

It wasn't just linear TV where FSD saw a boost. It continues to see significant increases in streaming viewership, on Fox Sports Go. FSD averaged nearly 10,000 streams a game in 2020, up 34% from 2019. That number should continue to grow, regardless how the Tigers fare in coming years, with Sinclair Broadcast Group set to launch a new app in the spring, focused on more fan interaction.

FSD, like most businesses amid the pandemic, faced unique challenges this year. On the baseball side, its broadcasters called away games from its studios in Southfield — a feat that required building a whole new studio, complete with a wall of monitors.

Hammaren called that adaption "not an easy effort," but one that was pulled off, which was a "real tribute to their abilities," speaking of talent and crew.

Hammaren also said he doesn't anticipate any changes with the on-air talent, led by play-by-play man Matt Shepard and game and studio analysts Kirk Gibson, Jack Morris, Dan Petry and Craig Monroe.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984