Poor ESPN, they can't win for trying. The sports network, located in Bristol CT, has time and again been accused of having a "Northeast bias" when it comes to sports. "You always play Red Sox and Yankees", "there is more to sports than Boston and New York" are the cries heard from other parts of the country. Yet a quick Google search will find articles on declining baseball ratings during the first half of the 2008 season shows that not only was that due to lack of the Red Sox and Yankees, but also the top three baseball ratings getters for their local markets were (drumroll) the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets in that order. That has nothing to do with ESPN folks, we're talking YES, NESN and SNY here. While the Yankees have the most households viewing the Red Sox have the highest market rating share and are the only team to have a share higher than 10.
Let's not forget the fans of Yankees and Red Sox not located in the local markets who do not subscribe to such options as the MLB Extra Innings package for television (where fans can watch out of market games for an extra price) or MLB.tv (out of market games streamed online). You see, the Red Sox fan base is not called "Red Sox Nation" for nothing. Team Boston has fans spread throughout the whole country, and the Sox have gone so far as to "elect governors" in each and every state. The Yankees as well have an enormous fan base as fans of both teams come out to road games to cheer their team on.
Let's take the Baltimore Orioles as an example. They are in the American League East, the very same division as the Red Sox and Yankees. Whenever the Sox or Yanks come to Oriole Park you'd think the game was taking place at Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium if you were not paying close attention and only listening to the game. Oh, and where do the Orioles rank in local ratings amongst the 29 MLB teams tallied (no info on the Toronto Blue Jays, being from Canada and all)? 27th, only above the Kansas City Royals and in market rivals the Washington Nationals. See for yourself!
2008 Local MLB Ratings
Network Team Average Households Ratings Share
YES Yankees 312,000 4.22
NESN Red Sox 242,000 10.12
SNY Mets 239,000 3.24
CSN Chicago Cubs 172,000 4.96
CSN Philadelphia Phillies 169,000 5.75
FSN North Twins 127,000 7.47
FSN Detroit Tigers 121,000 6.26
FSN Prime Ticket Dodgers 113,000 2.00
FSN Midwest Cardinals 98,000 7.89
FSN West Angels 77,000 1.40
CSN Chicago White Sox 76,000 2.19
FSN Northwest Mariners 74,000 4.16
FSN Arizona Diamondbacks 73,000 4.06
FSN Wisconsin Brewers 67,000 7.47
FSN Southwest Astros 63,000 3.08
FSN Florida Rays 62,000 3.47
SportsTime Ohio Indians 60,000 3.88
SunSports Marlins 57,000 3.68
SportSouth Braves 57,000 2.46
FSN Florida Marlins 56,000 3.63
CSN Bay Area Giants 56,000 2.32
FSN South Braves 55,000 2.38
FSN Rocky Mtn. Rockies 48,000 3.28
FSN Ohio Reds 44,000 4.92
Cox/SD 4 Padres 44,000 4.21
CSN Bay Area A’s 42,000 1.73
FSN Southwest Rangers 39,000 1.60
FSN Pittsburgh Pirates 32,000 2.76
MASN/MASN2 Orioles 29,000 2.64
FSN Kansas City Royals 26,000 2.84
MASN/MASN2 Nationals 8,000 0.34
Now before you say "well Jim, not all markets are created equal", I understand this. That's why I included the market share. Let's say anything over a 3 is good, anything over a 5 kicks ass, and anything under a 2 is the shits. Now let's compare the two largest markets, New York and Los Angeles. One's on the east coast, one's on the west coast and both have two teams. Let's keep in mind that the Yankees and Mets both missed the playoffs while the Dodgers and Angels both made the playoffs.
The Yankees had a ratings share of 4.22, the Mets 3.24: both in the "good" category. The Dodgers had a flat 2.00 and the Angels had a 1.40...the Dodgers barely missing "the shits". The Bay Area? Giants had a 2.32, the A's a 1.73. Texas? Astros had a 3.08, congrats. The Rangers, however, only managed a 1.60. The Frozen North fares quite well, with the Twins and Brewers both scoring a 7.47, while the southeast did horrible, as did the midwest. The Rays' numbers went up 100%, which basically means no one was watching them until this year. The Red Sox 10.12 share is astronomical, Boston is by no means a small market but nowhere near the size of New York, LA or Chicago (had to brag) while the Nationals number probably has people questioning the move from Montreal.
My point? If your own local market doesn't give a shit about your baseball team, then why should the rest of us? If I'm running ESPN and have a choice between the Yankees/Red Sox game and the A's/Rangers game I'm picking Red Sox/Yankees and so would you.
Another factor is winning. How many times can you report on a national level on how bad the Washington Nationals suck? How many people want to read about the Seattle Mariners losing 100 games, or the Detroit Tigers throwing expectations down the shitter and finishing last? The Yankees made the playoffs every year from 1995-2007, winning 4 out of 6 of the World Series' they appeared in, while the Red Sox have been in the playoffs every year since 2003 with the exception of 2006, they year the Tigers shot themselves in the foot against the 83 win Cardinals and no one gave a shit. Of course ESPN and every other sports outlet has to report on them: they are what's relevant. In fact, there has been nary a word said about the Yankees during these playoffs because they aren't in them. Yet without the Yankees LDS numbers went down overall, except for the Red Sox/Angels and Cubs/Dodgers series'.
Another reason why the Northeast teams are in the spotlight is the "familiarity factor". Let's take the NBA as an example. David Stern was praying to an altar of the Jerry West symbol that the Celtics would play the Lakers in the NBA Finals. In these times the US craves the familiar, which is why the Celtics/Lakers finals were a success. The Yankees and Red Sox are two familiar teams, this is why they are at the top of the list in national requests. This is the main reason why Bud Selig and Rupert Murdoch are hoping the Red Sox beat the Rays in the ALCS. The upstart Rays making a World Series run might have worked ratings-wise in the 1990's, but not so much now.
So ESPN, like all good businesses, is giving its customer what it wants: healthy doses of Red Sox and Yankees. Yet there are still some fans whining about a "Northeast bias". Bullshit, I say. If anything there is an ANTI-Northeast bias among jealous fans. The Red Sox and Yankees have strong fan bases and recent winners, while nobody can care less about your lousy team. Look in the comments section of an ALCS article, about half of them are "I hope the Rays win because I'm sick of the Red Sox and the Northeast bias". I have never once seen ESPN reporters write in a straight article "Go Red Sox and fuck the small markets!" (there are some Sox fans on the site, but they reserve those opinions for editorials).
If you whiners want to end the supposed "Northeast bias" then support your local teams, and if the Tampa Rays go to the World Series to play the Philadelphia Phillies watch each and every game. Sad thing is you won't, there will be articles about the Series reaching "record lows" (which it has done in 2000 *NYY/NYM, New York overkill*, 2002 *Angels/Giants*, 2005 *White Sox/Astros*, and 2006 *Cardinals/Tigers*. Then the mealy-mouthed bitches will continue to complain, which is what they want anyway.