Major League Baseball opened its doors on Sunday night, and the numbers were middling to say the least.
The Lone-Star showdown between the Texas Rangers and the newly-minted in the American League Houston Astros drew a 1.5 overnight rating according to the Houston Chronicle. That marks a drop of 17 percent from both the Cardinals/Marlins opener in 2012 and the Giants/Dodgers opener in 2011. Both of those games drew a 1.8 rating.
Context is everything in TV ratings, and there are certainly some points worth noting in ESPN's favor. First of all, Rangers-Astros came at the end of a long sports day, which featured both the men's and women's NCAA Tournaments playing key games. Neither of the two prior season openers had to deal with that. In fact, Cardinals/Marlins was on a Wednesday night, while Giants/Dodgers came on a Thursday.
In the context of Sunday Night Baseball, of which this game was the season premiere, the numbers are not bad. The game was up a tick from last year's Sunday night opener, which featured Texas and the Chicago White Sox (1.4). The 2011 Sunday night opener was also Giants/Dodgers and drew a 1.4 as well.
Locally, Texas put up four of the top five ratings spots for the game. Dallas/Ft. Worth drew a 5.6 (down 34 percent from that Rangers/White Sox game), Houston a 4.2 (well up from the 1.0 the Astros drew through the first half of 2012), Austin a 2.7, and San Antonio a 2.1, strong despite the Heat being in town to face the Spurs on Sunday night.
While there were some positives to the game, you can't deny that Rangers-Astros is a confounding choice for the sort of made-for-TV event Opening Night should represent. Some argue that baseball shouldn't have the night game to start the season. I don't agree with that, but I do think MLB needs to find better showcases for the first game of the year than Rangers-Astros was.
Most of the reasoning behind the Astros being chosen for Sunday night was the novelty of a team moving to the American League, though many would say that there is no novelty due to the advent of interleague play. The Astros lost 107 games in 2012, and though the Rangers are a new rival and made the playoffs last year, neither probably deserved this showcase. Even sending, say, the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox to Houston might have been a better choice.
Why were the World Series winners the San Francisco Giants not chosen? The NBA, NFL and NHL all began their most recent seasons with nationally televised games featuring their most recent champion. A Giants-Dodgers opener might be the second in three years, but would anyone have tuned out of Matt Cain vs. Clayton Kershaw on Opening Day? Or even a St. Louis-San Francisco rematch. Fox will showcase both of last year's LCS matchups on it's Saturday regional slate as well as Angels-Rangers. It's a shame ESPN didn't get the same sort of made-for-television power behind its opener