The Media Column: As Boston teams continue to win, overall fan interest beginning to waver

Alex Reimer
June 06, 2019 - 1:31 pm
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It would be incorrect to uniformly declare we are sick and tired of winning. On a local level, our sports teams’ annual championship chases still draw very high ratings, with the Patriots’ numbers even surpassing what they were at the start of the new millennium. But that is the exception, and not the rule. 

When it comes to our other three beloved clubs, and especially the Bruins and Red Sox, we are starting to see the early stages of championship fatigue. This has nothing to do with ducklings not wearing Patriots regalia or sales totals at South Station kiosks. It’s based entirely on the cold hard data, which shows America’s Greatest Sports Town might not dwarf its competition in terms of fan interest like we might think. 

Through four games, the Bruins are averaging a 23.45 local TV rating for their Stanley Cup Final matchup against the Blues. They are on track to finish below the totals they posted in 2011 and 2013.

There is still ample time for the B’s to close the gap. Game 4 drew a 26 rating in Boston, which is the highest figure of the series so far. It is worth noting, however, St. Louis’ 29 TV rating for Game 1 remains the highest of the series. It was superior to the 25.2 number the Bruins drew here. 

This drop mirrors what we saw from the Red Sox last season, except their fall was even more dramatic. Their series-clinching Game 5 win against the Dodgers, which took place on a Sunday night, garnered a 43.2 local number. It was down considerably from the 55.2 they posted for their clincher in 2013, which was right on par with the 55.3 number the completion of their sweep against the Rockies averaged in 2007. 

The Red Sox' Game 4 win over the Cardinals in 2004 generated a 59 rating in Boston, and will forever stand on its own. It is the second-highest championship rating of this gluttonous era, behind the Patriots’ victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. 

And therein lies the outlier of the group. The Patriots’ sleepy 13-3 win over the Rams drew a monstrous 57.1 rating in Boston, making it the second-most watched Patriots game since 2001. The Patriots’ average Super Bowl rating over their last four appearances is superior to the first five of the Brady-Belichick era.

The Celtics are tougher to gage, since they haven’t played in the NBA Finals since 2010. But their Game 7 affair against the Cavaliers drew a 21.9 rating in Boston, narrowly outdrawing Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final (20.6). Nationally, it was the second-largest total ever for an NBA game in ESPN history, though LeBron was probably more responsible for that than anybody else.

The Patriots, despite setting ratings records at home, are far less popular with the rest of the country, which doesn’t appear to be hate-watching like it used to. New England’s Super Bowl victory over the Rams garnered the lowest rating in 11 years, dipping below 100-million viewers. It was the fourth straight year the Super Bowl ratings have declined, and the Patriots have been involved in three of them. 

The Red Sox are victim to the same apparent feelings of ennui, if not to a greater extent. This year’s World Series was the fourth-least-watched ever, despite involving two storied franchises. Sure, it only lasted five games, but it featured two marquee teams and superstars –– at least by baseball standards. Suffice to say, nobody expected Red Sox-Dodgers would be the least-watched Fall Classic since Royals-Giants. 

There are lots of caveats, of course. TV ratings are declining in general, so maybe it isn’t fair to largely blame the Patriots for the recent Super Bowl dips. And as we know, baseball is tumbling in terms of national standing. Attendance is down again this season.

But the Red Sox’ involvement can no longer be viewed as a panacea for baseball’s ratings struggles. Their Opening Day matchup with the Mariners was the lowest-rated on ESPN since 2000, and Sunday night’s Red Sox-Yankees extravaganza, once counted on to garner the country’s attention, only attracted 1.97 million viewers. Their two Sunday night affairs last year each eclipsed 2 million viewers.

The Bruins still appear to command the national spotlight with hockey diehards, as this year’s Cup Final is drawing the best ratings in five years. While they are slightly down from 2013, that probably has more to do with the opponent. The Blackhawks are far sexier than the Blues. (National Stanley Cup numbers are also up from 2011, but Canadian TV ratings don't factor into the U.S. figures.) 

Ace Ticket CEO Jim Holtzman says he doesn’t think Bruins interest will ever surpass the climax of the 2011 Cup run around these parts, but overall he thinks people are more invested now. “I think ’11 was the most (interest), because we hadn’t seen it for a while. It was like ’04 (with the Red Sox),” he told WEEI.com on the phone recently. “But overall, I would say the interest is about 20-percent higher now than it was then. We’re seeing more traffic on the website, more calls and more interest. That’s from my perspective.”

Perhaps fan investment isn’t uniform, but rather team specific, and more about how the game is consumed. The Patriots have become a religion around these parts, with our privileged grievance increasing after each Brady pseudo-scandal. The Red Sox, meanwhile, apparently lose some of their colloquial charm with each World Series win, though baseball has lost a lot of its charm over the last 15 years as well.

Regardless, Boston has now seen 18 championship appearances since 2001, and this might be the most impressive calendar year yet –– assuming the Bruins can finish off the Blues. Our team’s success is at an apex. Fan interest, however, appears to be wavering just a little bit.

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Putting bow on Fauria silliness: Believe it or not, we have learned something valuable this week amidst all of the debate over the definition of “doneski.” While Fauria is still sorting out his Zdeno Chara injury timeline, he was the first actual media member who definitively reported the captain’s jaw was broken. It is understandable if others wanted to wait until an actual NHL Insider followed up with his own report, but once that happened, Fauria should’ve been credited.  The hockey press demonstrated its institutional arrogance here. 

And no, Awful Announcing, Christian Fauria is not the same as “@FredtheDog04.” One person uses his real name –– when he isn’t making prank calls –– and works for an actual media outlet; the other person is an anonymous Twitter user. Please.

Recent Gronk return speculation based on iffy source: Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman says people inside the Patriots organization expect Rob Gronkowski to return this season. While that sounds exciting, consider the source. Freeman has a long track record surfacing bombastic reports, including his tweet earlier this year about Colin Kaepernick receiving between $60 and $80 million from the NFL in his settlement. The actual total turned out to be less than $10 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

New York media’s “Tom Terrific” freakout is understandable: It is unequivocally silly for grown adults to express any emotion towards sports nickname trademarks. But we exist in the sand box, so in our world, this is was a big deal.

As Boomer Esiason said on M&C this morning, just imagine if a Jets quarterback named “Larry” applied to trademark the “Larry Legend” nickname. We would be just as outraged in Boston as they are in New York.

Those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Related: Refusal to credit Christian Fauria for Zdeno Chara news is institutional arrogance in its worst form

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