The Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves are set to kick off another World Series tonight, which in all likelihood will be more watched than the 2020 edition. Last year’s pandemic-shortened season led to a historic low in ratings — down 32% from the 2019 series, which also featured the Astros, in an unprecedented loss to the Washington Nationals.
Besides the elevated stakes, the World Series offers a sense of consistency for the first time in the MLB playoffs: every game is slated to broadcast on Fox proper, just a hair after 8:00 EST. That wasn’t the case for any preceding series, which found teams pogoing between TBS, FS1, and Fox at all hours of the day. This can be challenging to navigate for cord-cutters — roughly one-third of Americans who watch television — and certainly impacts the ratings for any MLB postseason series.
According to a recent CivicScience study, cable and satellite are still the preferred methods to watch the MLB postseason among those who watch. But a near-equal number of Americans are streaming the playoffs on unofficially sanctioned third-party sites as they are official streaming alternatives to cable.
Daily TikTok users are, somewhat surprisingly, more likely than other users to watch the MLB playoffs through a cable or satellite plan. Infrequent TikTok users are by far the most likely to stream the playoffs on a third-party site, and Americans who aren’t on the social media platform at all are overwhelmingly watching the playoffs on cable or satellite.
Just over 20% of baseball fans tune in to most of the MLB playoffs, but even more fans don’t watch and would like to join them. You could chalk up the mismatch between this group’s intention and inability to watch to a number of factors, but cord-cutting certainly seems to be a leading cause. Americans who’ve cut the cord well outpace the rate of MLB fans who would like to watch the playoffs but are unable to.
During the regular season, MLB offers a subscription plan for fans to stream every regular-season game not impacted by cable or local blackouts — a separate barrier all its own. But the subscription doesn’t extend to the postseason, likely due to the competing broadcast contracts. (MLB currently offers a postseason package available for $24.99, but it requires authentication to a participating TV provider to stream select games.)
A no-strings-attached streaming plan for the MLB postseason is likely a pipe dream for a number of reasons, but 20% of Americans would be on board if their preferred teams made it to the playoffs. Nearly half of all Americans who follow MLB very closely might consider such a package with the right teams, and 20% of the biggest baseball fans are onboard regardless of team.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has tinkered with odd alterations to game format and pace-of-play in an effort to keep the league relevant to a younger generation of fans. Some of these will stick longer than others, but the secret might just be making it easiest for fans to watch in- and out-of-market games during the regular season — and continuing that accessibility for cord-cutters in the postseason.