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Fox Sports anticipates strong ratings bump with MLB return

Fox Sports executives are expecting a ratings bump of about 40 per cent for the start later this month of its coverage of the revised 2020 Major League Baseball schedule.

Speaking on a Fox Sports-produced video with Kevin Burkhardt, the primary studio host for the network’s MLB coverage, executive vice president and head of strategy Mike Mulvihill said the strong audience gains for numerous other US-based leagues as they returned from the Covid-19 pandemic provide key learnings.

“When other major properties have staged their comeback events, the audience has really responded,” Mulvihill said. “The NFL conducted their Draft and the audience was up about 40 per cent over the previous year. It was the most-watched Draft in history. When Nascar returned to our air, it was up 40 per cent over the last race prior to the pandemic.

“And when the PGA Tour returned to CBS, their weekend ratings were up by about 50 per cent. So everything’s falling in about that 40 to 50 per cent range, at least among major sports properties, and that probably gives us a reasonable range of expectation for opening weekend [of MLB],” Mulvihill said. 

Fox Sports will begin its broadcast coverage of the 2020 MLB season with its first-ever quadrupleheader on July 25, highlighted by marquee matchups including the Chicago Cubs at the Milwaukee Brewers, the San Francisco Giants at the Los Angeles Dodgers, and New York Yankees at the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals, all of which will be on Fox broadcast. 

Those latter two matchups will also be the ones for ESPN’s season-opening coverage on July 23. 

FS1, meanwhile, will begin its cable coverage also on July 25, rounding out that quadrupleheader with the Arizona Diamondbacks visiting the San Diego Padres.

Mulvihill likened the start of MLB’s amended 60-game schedule to some of the frenetic energy surrounding the NCAA men’s basketball tournament each year. And because of the regionally oriented nature of the revised slate that will see each team largely play within its own time zone, there is a tighter clustering of rivalry games.

“Rivalries are always a major driver of interest in a normal baseball season and this year with the shortened season, those rivalry games have a higher concentration than every before,” he said. “About a quarter of the schedule for a team like the Yankees is made of games against either the [Boston] Red Sox or [New York] Mets, so that’s a high concentration of rivalry games, and I think that’s going to drive a lot of interest throughout the season.”

The retooled Field of Dreams game with the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals, being played August 13 in Iowa on the filming site of the movie of the same name, meanwhile will “kind of function as this year’s Midsummer Classic in the absence of the All-Star Game,” Mulvihill said.

“We’re obviously disappointed to lose the All-Star Game, but we have an opportunity this year to have a really special midseason event…and I really believe this has an opportunity to be our most-watched regular-season game in several seasons. My hopes for it are quite high,” he said.