The Media Column: Red Sox remain much more popular than Celtics or Bruins, and numbers aren't close

Alex Reimer
October 04, 2018 - 11:00 am

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

For whatever reason, we are obsessed with talking about baseball’s declining popularity. Even though the Patriots have been well ahead of the Red Sox for at least a decade –– and many would argue longer than that –– it’s somehow presented as revelatory to point out how more people watch Tom Brady throw passes on Sundays than Brian Johnson take the rubber on a Tuesday night in August. The fifteen most-watched TV shows in September were all NFL games. Professional football is a beast. 

So it’s futile to compare the Red Sox to the Patriots. Even as the Sox embark on their expected World Series run this month, expect the Pats to draw more interest. Next Sunday, for example, will be Game 2 of the ALCS and Patriots-Chiefs on Sunday Night Football. It’s not difficult to forecast which game will dominate the sports conversation the following morning, even if the hometown nine can advance past the vaunted Yankees. 

With that reality in mind, the true fight in this town is for second place. From a hype standpoint, it appears as if the Celtics are making a strong run. They’re favorites in the Eastern Conference, and the social media buzz is all about them. In 2018, the NBA was tweeted about more than any other sports league, and its official Instagram account boasts 31 million followers. The NFL, MLB and NHL have 19.9 million followers combined on Insta. 

Those figures aren’t surprising, considering the NBA has the youngest fanbase of the four major professional sports leagues. Basketball is about to explode, but it hasn’t happened yet. Up to this point, all of the tweets and viral highlights haven’t translated to ratings success. The Red Sox remain the clear No. 2, and frankly, the Celtics aren’t close.

Thanks to their record-setting season, Red Sox ratings surged this summer. They averaged a 6.8 household rating in Boston, which is up 24 percent from last year. Those are the Red Sox’ best numbers since 2013, when they drew an average number of 7.3. And after the All-Star Break this season, the Red Sox even attracted more viewers than that, bringing in a nightly figure of 7.8 through 146 contests –– when I last received more specific numbers. 

The Celtics enjoyed their own magical season in 2017-18, taking the Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals without Irving and Gordon Hayward. They saw their TV numbers explode, too, increasing 44 percent over the previous campaign. 

The mammoth gains resulted in an average rating of 3.24. Or, in other words, less than half of what the Red Sox draw on a nightly basis. The C's were much closer to the Bruins, who drew an average rating of 2.95 on NESN last season. 

The Celtics even failed to unseat the Red Sox during the opening rounds of their playoff run. On April 22, the Celtics played their Game 4 thriller against the Bucks –– The Greek Freak tipped in the game-winner with five seconds left –– and the Red Sox lost a ho-hum matinee to the A’s later that day. The Sox’ rating for that game was 6.9 on NESN, whereas the C’s finished with a 6.2 on ABC. 

On a national scale, the MLB and NBA draw similar numbers for their extended postseasons. Over the last three years, the average World Series rating has been 10.7. The average NBA Finals rating over that span checks in at 10.9. (The World Series has attracted more viewers than the NBA Finals in each of the last two years, but both match ups went to seven games.)

At this current rate, MLB probably won’t be competitive with the NBA for long. Baseball has a big demographics problem, with half of its audience 55 or older. Since old people are more likely to watch TV than young people, baseball’s ratings numbers will probably always be a little inflated. 

But still, in terms of actually sitting down and watching games –– a time-honored tradition of sports fandom –– baseball holds much stronger than the doom and gloom commentary indicates. That’s especially true in Boston. The Red Sox showed it this season, and their ratings success will almost surely continue thanks to their first-round matchup against the Yankees. 

The games will be tense, long and feature tons of pitching changes. They will also end very late, prompting screams about how baseball is an interminable slog. 

But the silent majority is watching. The Red Sox’ hold is secure –– at least for the foreseeable future. 

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Tony Mazz doesn’t fess up to awful sports take: Over the last week at WEEI, we’ve had lots of fun playing sound of Tony Massarotti declaring Patriots first-round pick Sony Michel “sucks” and “blows.” That’s fine. Most of us spout ridiculous nonsense, though our vocabularies typically extend past two words. 

But what’s egregious about this episode is Mazz didn’t own up to his heinous take. On Monday, following Michel’s 125-yard performance against the Dolphins, Mazz denied he ever lambasted Michel on the air. Mike Francesa’s chief chronologist has the video proof:

With those reality denying skills, perhaps Mazz should take a job in the White House press office. 

Peter King brings up possible future Barstool conundrum: NFL Insider Peter King is one of the many A-list media figures who have appeared as a guest on Barstool's "Pardon My Take" podcast, hosted by Daniel "Big Cat" Katz and PFT Commenter. The "PMT" guys have been able to separate themselves from the Barstool brand, allowing them to land big guests who probably wouldn't appear on other Barstool platforms.

But that could change after the Daily Beast's lengthy takedown of Barstool for its history of online harassment, which was published last week. King wrote in his weekly "Football Morning in America" column he no longer plans to appear on any Barstool programs, including "PMT," in light of the Daily Beast's piece. 

Now, one could argue that King should've been aware of Barstool's past before the Daily Piece article was published. But the piece reignited focus on the company, drawing strong rebuttals from founder Dave Portnoy and CEO Erika Nardini. With the attention back on Barstool's more sordid past, it's possible more media figures could follow King's lead. 

King expounded on his newfound feelings in an interview with "Dale & Keefe" Thursday. 

Boston Herald plans to hire new sports columnist, despite widespread layoffs: The Boston Herald's parent company, Digital First Media, is laying off several staffers Thursday. It is expected to be the venture capitalist company's first widespread layoff since it purchased the paper earlier this year. 

But there is one vacancy the tabloid plans to fill. In an email to me, Herald sports editor Justin Pelletier says he will hire a replacement for Herald mainstay Steve Buckley, who left the this week to join The Athletic. The Herald currently doesn't have a sports columnist on staff. 

Interestingly enough, the sports department has replaced most of its bigger departures to this point. The paper hired a new Patriots beat writer, Kevin Duffy, to replace Jeff Howe, and a new Bruins reporter, Marisa Ingemi, to take over for the deceased Steve Harris. 

Chad Jennings, the No. 2 Red Sox beat writer, was not replaced when he left for The Athletic, however. 

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