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MLB says putting Game 2 of ALCS up against Patriots-Chiefs is best way to reach 'largest national audience'

Alex Reimer
October 10, 2018 - 4:07 pm

The Red Sox will be going head-to-head with the Patriots Sunday night, because MLB says it decided that was the best way to maximize the audience for Game 2 of the ALCS. 

In an email to me, a league spokesman explained MLB’s rationale behind the decision. “Our goal in determining start times for Postseason games is to make the games available to the largest number of fans on a national basis,” the statement reads. “While considering the many factors that can influence the selection, we ultimately decided the best time to reach the national audience was starting the game in primetime.”

First pitch of Game 2 between Red Sox-Astros is slated for 7:09 p.m., giving the two clubs roughly one hour of exclusivity before the Patriots and Chiefs kick off at 8:20 p.m. from Gillette Stadium. The Week 6 matchup is a highly anticipated regular season contest pitting Tom Brady against the undefeated Chiefs and star sophomore quarterback Patrick Mahomes. 

Game 1, taking place on Saturday night at Fenway Park, is expected to start at 8:09 p.m.

MLB’s choice to pit itself against the NFL on Sunday is mystifying, considering “Sunday Night Football” has been the most-watched primetime show on TV for the last seven years. NFL ratings are also up three percent this season. 

But the Red Sox’ involvement in the series makes the evening start time downright preposterous, because it splits the Boston market. If the game started in the late afternoon, there would be no conflict. 

That’s also true for the national audience. The results aren’t good for MLB when it's directly competing with the NFL in prime time. For example, Red Sox-Yankees drew a 3.4 household rating nationally on Monday night, whereas Saints-Redskins garnered a 7.3, per the Globe’s Ben Volin. The difference on Sunday could be even greater, considering Red Sox-Yankees has more national appeal than Red Sox-Astros, and “Sunday Night Football” is more highly rated than “Monday Night Football.”

MLB is seemingly shrinking its audience in every possible way.