Orioles fans appear to be taking to heart the longstanding marketing request to turn down their television sound and take in baseball on the radio, as ratings to date on television are down 16 percent, while radio ratings are up 16 percent in the key adult demographic.
Through 44 over-the-air telecasts, Orioles games are averaging a 6.5 rating and 15 share of the audience on their two carriers, Channels 13 and 54, which is down significantly from the 7.7/16 the team was averaging at the same juncture last year.
For the 29 telecasts that have aired on Channel 13, the team's principal over-the-air station, ratings are at a seven-year low, down from last year's 9.4/19 to this year's 7.3/16, a 22 percent drop. Telecasts on Channel 54 are off 6 percent from last season.
In raw numbers, considering that each rating point in Baltimore equals 9,992 homes, Oriole viewership is down by 11,000 homes from last year overall and by 20,000 homes on Channel 13.
Jay Newman, Channel 13's vice president and general manager, said the principal factor in lowered ratings is the team's sub-par performance, and other factors, including a higher number of rain-delayed games and the increased number of baseball games available to local viewers on cable and other broadcast outlets.
"Ratings tend to ebb and flow with the interest of the team. This is part of an erosion that's going on not just here but around the country. I don't think it's a disaster," said Newman. "It's a pretty strong number in comparison to what prime time is doing in this market."
Home Team Sports, the team's cable carrier, reports that its ratings in the Baltimore area through 53 games (not including yesterday's game) are up 9 percent from last year, from a 4.2 in 1999 to 4.6 in 2000.
The downturn in Oriole broadcast ratings comes as the location of future telecasts is up in the air, as the team's current deal with Channel 13 expires at the end of the season. HTS, which produces the telecasts for itself and for Channels 13 and 54, has a separate cable contract that runs through the 2006 season.
Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka said club officials don't believe that the team's play or the roster upheaval will have an effect on where games would be seen next year.
"Win or lose, people are really into the Orioles, and I think they'll continue to watch," said Stetka.
Newman was non-committal on whether Channel 13 would pick up games next year. CBS' prime-time lineup has become increasingly strong, particularly this summer with the success of the reality show "Survivor," and with network commitments to golf on the weekends, CBS officials may decide that ties to baseball are not in the station's best interests.
"We enjoy our relationship with the Orioles, and we also enjoy having CBS programming. We don't have to make a decision right now, and we're just focusing on the current season. If it makes sense to continue the relationship, then we will," said Newman.
Further complicating the situation is the fact that the affiliation swap of 1995, where Channels 2, 11 and 13 all changed networks, left those stations with tightly drawn carriage agreements with their respective networks that may make airing a baseball package difficult.
Meanwhile, WBAL (1090), the team's radio flagship station, is reporting that ratings for the spring 2000 period, which covers from April to mid-June, the 7 p.m.-midnight time period during which most Orioles games air, are up not just overall, but in all but one demographic group.
Among all listeners 12 years and older, the station, which is in the first year of a three-year contract with the team, garnered a 10.1 share of the area's listeners in the 7 p.m.-midnight period, a 13 percent rise from the 8.8 share from spring 1999. On average, 17,200 listeners in that demographic group listened to the station every quarter hour, a rise from 16,100 in the same time last year.
However, among listeners in the 18 and older demographic category, the rating jumped from a 9.7 last spring to an 11.5 this spring, a 16 percent increase.
Jeff Beauchamp, WBAL's vice president and station manager, said the rise was likely due to the notion that people are more willing to commit to spending time listening to a struggling baseball team than watching them.
"The mobility of radio allows people to do other things while the game is on, rather than sitting in front of a television set. We kind of predicted that we would have a better year this year than last, and we were right," said Beauchamp, adding that the station is also offering listeners $1 million if a certain Oriole hits a grand slam in a designated inning.
Television and radio ratings for Orioles games this season, through July 25:
Channels 13/54 average through 44 telecasts:
On WJZ (Ch. 13) through 29 telecasts:
On WNUV(Ch. 54) through 15 telecasts:
HTS, through 53 telecasts as of 8/01/00, and through 51 games as of 08/01/99:
*measures the percentage of all television households watching a particular program; **measures the percentage of televisions in use that are watching a particular program Radio
For games on WBAL (1090 AM) during spring period - April, May and June:
Among listeners 12 and older:
Among listeners 18 and older
*For over-the-air telecasts, each rating point equals 9,992 homes in the Baltimore area. A comparable figure is not available for HTS or for radio broadcasts.
Source: Nielsen; Arbitron