Take away the ballpark and the Red Sox were no more alluring than the Tampa Bay Rays.
In a 2020 MLB season without fans in the stands, there was only one metric to measure fan interest: viewership. And when it came to average viewers per game, the Red Sox were beaten by 15 of the 24 other teams that reported local viewership numbers to Home Team Sports, a division of Fox Sports.
The Rays were among the teams to average more viewers per game than the Sox, who averaged just 72,515 viewers per game. The numbers were reported by Forbes in an in-depth analysis on Monday.
The Red Sox knew this was coming after going 24-36 for a .400 winning percentage, their lowest since 1965.
“Given our incredibly disappointing season on the field, and that we were out of contention less than halfway through the season, it is no surprise our ratings were way down,” team president Sam Kennedy said in an email to the Herald. “While it is difficult to accurately assess 2020 against traditional seasons, we know that playing competitive and winning baseball is what drives interest. We are committed to adding depth and talent throughout our Major and Minor League rosters to put us in the best position for consistent success as we go forward.”
Overall, the Red Sox saw their ratings drop 54%, the biggest drop of any of the 25 teams that reported data. The Angels (40%) and Mariners (38%) were far behind the Sox for the biggest falloff from 2019.
Trading Mookie Betts and David Price in February set the team up for a disappointing season, regardless of what else happened. When Chris Sale went down with Tommy John surgery, the Sox were doomed. Eduardo Rodriguez caught the coronavirus and endured lasting complications with his heart that put his future in jeopardy.
What was left was a team that was non-competitive for most of the season. It wasn’t until the final two weeks when chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom called up prospect Tanner Houck and traded for starter Nick Pivetta that the Sox finally had a somewhat competitive product on the field.
Until then, they were going five nights a week without a legitimate starting pitcher on the mound. At one point their ERA was over 6.00 and on pace to be the worst in MLB in 25 years.
The result was a team that fans didn’t want to watch. It’s no fun rooting for a team when the manager has few decisions to make; they’re made for him ahead of time. The training staff was giving recently fired manager Ron Roenicke a card every night with colors next to the pitchers. Anyone with a red color was unavailable. There were nights Roenicke had no choice but to use the few pitchers who were green, or force a yellow pitcher into the game when he wasn’t 100%.
According to statistics compiled by Baseball-Reference.com, the Red Sox’ most valuable player was Jackie Bradley Jr., who may not be back next year. And the Sox roped him around with their comments to the media that they wanted him back, only for Bradley to say that was news to him and he hadn’t heard a single thing about a contract extension from the Sox’ front office. He’ll be a free agent five days after the World Series ends.
Don’t blame NESN. They actually had a solid broadcast this year, using Dennis Eckersley and Jerry Remy alongside Dave O’Brien all season. The three-man booth was a welcome surprise for the year after they only occasionally were in the booth together in previous seasons.
NESN acknowledged that the poor ratings weren’t a result of their work, but instead the team’s awful play.
“Despite these efforts, our ratings declined due to the team’s on-field performance,” NESN said. “As we look forward to the 2021 season, we are very hopeful that an improved baseball performance will position us for a rebound in ratings, and we were very encouraged by the 18% increase in ratings for our younger demographic of Adults 18-34 this season.”