The business of making money in baseball today is not they way it was 25 years ago. For the first 130 years of professional baseball a good chunk of the way Major League Baseball teams made a majority of their money was by selling tickets. Getting fans through the gate and into the seats well outpaced advertising at the ballpark, or radio contracts, or from about 1990 on – television contracts.

All of that started to change at the turn of the century. While the mid-90’s started to see things change when, at least in Cincinnati, Sports Channel started showing 50+ games a year on cable, it was a handful of years later that really changed the game. That’s when the owners got together and started MLB Advanced Media. It was their all encompassing web presence that included what turned out to be a gold mine in MLB.tv. The technology gained from that led to countless amounts of money.

There was another technology shift that turned television contracts upside down, too. The DVR. While TiVo has been around for a while, it was a premium product for a while (it still is). But in the last decade-ish, pretty much every cable or satellite provider has provided the option for a DVR to their subscribers. That left advertisers less than willing to pay top dollar for many programs as consumers would often turn to them after the fact and then fast forward through the commercials. Sports, however, was immune to that as nearly everyone is tuning in to watch them in real time. And that led to the regional sports networks paying through the nose for broadcast rights because they could in turn charge through the nose for advertising because people would actually be seeing those commercials. That’s also led to enormous national contracts for television rights, too.

While I do think it’s going to be rather interesting to see how this plays out in the long run because now days when a commercial comes on what do you do? It probably isn’t just sit there and keep watching the television. You grab your phone or tablet and check in with the world. Advertisers are still ignoring that this is happening, mostly, but it won’t last forever. It’s one reason that sporting events are doing more “between plays” advertising. Sure, it adds an extra “ad-spot”, but it’s also one that they know consumers will actually see.

In today’s business of baseball a big chunk of the money brought in is through revenue sharing and television contracts – local, national, and the MLB.tv share. The ticket sales, while still having plenty of value, doesn’t mean nearly as much as it used to. And with the value of television contracts, and the lengths of them (some teams signed them for two decades), it’s led to situations where winning doesn’t actually matter to the bottom line anymore. Or at least it doesn’t matter much.

With all of that said, winning more does matter some. The Reds have been in what feels like a perpetual state of losing for the last half-decade. Last offseason they decided to try and make improvements from the outside of the organization, trading for three starting pitchers to add to the rotation, several outfielders, and a utility man. They also decided to replace almost the entire coaching staff. Some of it worked. Some of it didn’t. But in the end, Cincinnati won more games in 2019 than they had in the previous four seasons.

More wins, and perhaps more exciting games being played deeper into the season, let to better ratings on television and more tickets being sold. On the television side, ratings were up from last season’s 4.1 rating. In 2019 that jumped up to a 5.2 rating, which means about 44,000 homes were turned into the Reds games each night in the Cincinnati market. That’s very high in terms of a rating, which was 6th in baseball, but given how small the television market is, it’s still a small number of viewers by comparison to many teams in baseball. For example, that same rating in St. Louis, also considered a “small market” by television standards, would be 61,000 homes. In New York a 5.2 rating would be 369,000 homes.

But depending on how the Reds are dealing with their ownership in Fox Sports Ohio – they got an unnamed percentage stake in the company as a part of their last television contract – which also gives no details on the amount of money they get per year – it’s possible that more viewers leads to more money to spend on the team. That is, of course, assuming the organization is treating that ownership stake as “baseball money” and not just some investment for the owners. We don’t know how they are choosing to handle that.

Then there is the increase at the gate. The Reds attendance jumped up to 1,808,685. That’s up from 1,629,356 in 2018. But it’s also the lowest outside of that in a decade. In 2009 they dipped to 1,747,919. The 2019 attendance is the 3rd lowest in the last two decades, and the 5th lowest since 1987. So while things were technically “up”, it was still very low, even by Cincinnati attendance standards.

That can be both good and bad. The bad, of course, is that it’s low and while tickets don’t make or break the budgets anymore – they still do matter. With an average ticket price of $44 in Cincinnati, 300,000 extra tickets sold is $13.2M just from the ticket sales. If they could get back to the 2.4-2.5M they were at earlier this decade, then you’re looking at an extra $25-30M a year to spend thanks to ticket sales. And that’s the good. There is clearly room for growth in ticket sales. Now it’s up to the organization to give the fans a reason to buy more tickets.

21 Responses

  1. Phil Gasson

    Maybe if Reds baseball wasn’t off FS Ohio the last 6weeks ratings would have been higher.

    • Doug Gray

      That’s certainly probable. It would be interesting to have the numbers to know how many people were actually unable to watch.

    • Greg Pearson

      Are you talking about a carriage issue on a specific provider?

      If so, those people aren’t normally considered part of the viewing universe. If you don’t get the channel, you aren’t counted as a viewer OR a non-viewer. You are completely ignored in the calculations.

      Bottom line, it shouldn’t have affected the ratings (which are essentially a percentage of the potential audience) in any way.

      • Greg Pearson

        I guess it could slightly affect the average number of viewers, but not the ratings number (5.2).

        But, even then, if one provider that has ~15% market share* doesn’t carry the games for ~25% of the season, the viewership number won’t move in any significant way.

        *I assume we’re talking about Dish Network?

  2. Stock

    The more I think about it the Puig trade was nothing more than a ploy to bring in a big name and some excitement to boost attendance and television ratings. They were not all in and I believe had no intention of being all in.

    I would love to see them bring back Didi, Scooter and also sign Adam Eaton and Gerrit Cole. But we know this will not happen and the Reds will suck.

    • Matt WI

      I don’t know… that feels like some after the facts reasoning. “All in” vs just being “in” is also an important distinction to make. I very much think they were trying to be “in.” Truth was, they made some moves and the players fell flat and could never fully recover. That’s entirely separte from the hopes/intentions of the organization. But I suppose it’s possible they were just putting lipstick on a P(u)ig.

      Not ditching Puig at that point would have been malfeasance. Puig is a “name” but hardly one that would bring in the kind of ticket sales that the Reds need.

    • Colt Holt

      To be fair, reds brass should ABSOLUTELY be bringing in guys that can draw excitement. They shouldn’t be substantially detrimental to the baseball, but this market demands a team that gets the fans excited to show up. This isn’t New York where sell outs at obscene prices are just expected.

    • Indy Red Man

      I don’t think anyone said the Puig trade meant they were all in? They needed to get rid of Homer and took a shot that the guys from LA could help them in the short term or by possibly flipping. If you look at this way then they moved Homer for Bauer. The Reds lost 20 straight games that Homer appeared in from 2017-18. Let that sink in for a second. Bauer, on the other hand, almost won the Cy Young in 2018. Not to mention alot of people thought Puig might go off in GABP like Soler did for KC.

      I smash the Reds FO as much as anyone, but I liked that trade. I also wrote on RLN in March/April that it would be stupid to count on Hughes & Hernandez just because they were solid last season…..not at 34 years old. Thats on the Reds. Counting on Peraza….thats on the Reds. I would say it was reasonable to count on Winker, Senzel, Dietrich, and Scooter. Reasonable seasons from those guys and they’re atleast threatening .500.

      • Pete

        Two things sticking in my craw: how in the world do the Reds lead the universe in first runs scored and have such a mediocre offense in general? How in the world do they lose so many 1-run games? More than anything else this concerns me about David Bell.

        Kevin Cash (TB) is running circles around A.J Hinch (HOU). Hinch could lose his job if the Astros lose tomorrow. The talent levels between the clubs are night and day. Whoever hired Kevin Cash knows what they are doing. Managers can make a big difference and the bigger the game, the more it shows up.

      • VaRedsFan

        @Pete – The difference in scoring 1st inning runs vs. late “game on the line” runs is nothing more than pressure. Some guys thrive while other guys (Reds hitters) fail. In the early innings, players are relaxed….they know they will have more opportunities later in the game. Late inning close game, at bats is where you find out who can handle it or not. The pressure is on, there are no more at bats coming. It’s now or never. It’s why you rarely saw the Reds have any late inning comeback wins. Pressure. It’s why golfers can play good for 3 rounds, but choke time and time again down the stretch in round 4. Pressure is REAL folks, and our guys don’t perform well when it’s on.

      • Pete

        Great point VA. I will proffer an alternative theory: does the team relax after the first inning fireworks? Do they let down? Look at the Dodgers last night, they coming busting out of the gate and then….nothing. Dave Roberts is probably in trouble in LA and should be. Not just the Kershaw move but the power outage for basically 9 innings. Where did the bats go?? Did they think they had the game one?

        To their credit, the Nationals have been tenacious all year. If I’m a Dodger fan I’m more depressed today than any Reds fan during 2019. The only fans feeling lower will be the Astros if they don’t win tonight. Crazy but very exciting playoffs this year with the Yankees as the exception…so far.

      • VaRedsFan

        Roberts certainly pulled a boneheaded move by leaving Kelly in for a 2nd inning. Jansen should have really pitched the 9th (so he got lucky getting a clean inning from Kelly in the 9th) and 10th, since the home team could no longer get a save in the 9th or later.

        I won’t throw fault his way for leaving Kershaw in to pitch the game into a tie. Rondon golfed 1 ankle-high pitch out of the park. So CK stayed in to face the lefty Soto, who took him deep the next pitch.

  3. Colorado Red

    I do like MLB.tv.
    Get to watch the Reds on my PC, and the Rox on the TV.
    Many times I am sitting there watching both at the same time.
    Too lazy to get up during the commercials, but I turn off the sound on MLB.tv.

    • TR

      MLB.com is something else. See the Reds game and get the local, Rays, game on TV if it interests me. The Reds fans are there. It’s up to the organization and then player performance to bring fans back to the ballpark.

  4. Earl

    I got to say for a decidedly mediocre Reds club, they did play quite a few totally wacky and memorable games this year.

  5. scotly50

    I must admit. I Tivo the Reds games as well. Let it get about an hour or so ahead then watch.

    • VaRedsFan

      I love to do that with sports. But then commenting on the game thread goes out the window, so I rarely record Reds games

  6. Bill J

    With games on tv and the cost of going to a game, fighting traffic is there a possibility of attending a game becoming like brick and mortar stores, gone.

    • jim walker

      This is an interesting question for me too. My wife has lot of family in the LA area; so, we get out there with some regularity. Folks ride the light rail and commuter trains to rail hubs near downtown from which dedicated busses take them onto the stadium.

      My understanding is that there are also dedicated busses that run from collection points in the outer areas to the stadium. Don’t know about the busses but the rail for the most part even has free wifi.

      So, maybe a lot of this traffic stuff is really a local issue, meaning our part of the country, and Cincinnati in particular?

      • Big Ed

        I think Dodger games in general are still traffic catastrophes. Maybe they have made some improvements on the margin, but the traffic is why there are empty seats when the game starts, and why people leave early.

        Nice Dodger bullpen work, by the way.

  7. Jim t

    I live in West Chester. I can leave my house at 6:15, park under the fountain for 6 bucks and be in my seat before the first pitch. Not really seeing a traffic or parking issue.