It took until late Saturday for Team USA to get into the swing of things at the World Baseball Classic. Hopefully for MLB Network, the ratings will have the same response.
Despite reports of great success in other countries, including one that showed the tournament getting better ratings than the Olympics in Japan, TV numbers in the United States are as mediocre as ever. This was expected, given the move from ESPN to MLB Network for the entire tournament, but the numbers remain more than a little disappointing, given how the tournament seems to have caught on worldwide.
The USA-Mexico match in primetime on Friday night drew 673,000 viewers, and an 0.3 rating among Adults 18-49, while their Sunday afternoon game against Canada scored 760,000 viewers. Saturday night's game against Italy drew 576,000 viewers. Sunday's game marked MLB Network's highest viewership numbers, save for their two MLB post-season broadcasts from last fall. Their most-watched non-USA game of the weekend? Dominican Republic-Puerto Rico on Sunday night, which tallied 513,000 viewers.
It's an unfair comparison, but just for posterity, Team USA's first game in the 2009 World Baseball Classic -- a Sunday afternoon tilt against Canada in Toronto -- drew 1.9 million viewers. That means the drop from ESPN to MLB Network -- a disparity of about 30 million homes in terms of distribution -- lost Team USA about a third of its ratings from the 2009 tournament. Meanwhile, on ESPN, an Atlanta Hawks-Boston Celtics game drew 1.53 million viewers. While the numbers are excellent for the fledgling MLB Network, they are still well below the 2009 event.
Some other numbers from the weekend: A first-round Pool D battle between Canada-Italy -- which picked up some buzz due to a surprising upset by the Italians -- drew just 198,000 viewers. The follow-up game from Pool C between Spain and Puerto Rico increased MLB Network's audience to 263,000 viewers. Again, as a comparison, games on ESPN from the 2009 tournament averaged 1.6 million viewers, though that doesn't count a few games from that tourney that aired on MLB Network. Overall, MLB Network has averaged 252,000 viewers for the entire tourney through Sunday.
I don't think there's necessarily an apathy for the World Baseball Classic. I'm sure, however, that a lot of American viewers are playing the waiting game to see if this is a United States team capable of winning the whole thing. The move of the entire show to MLB Network, however, hasn't eased things.