2023 MLB viewership is up; are new rules working for fans?

Nate Eaton Royals MLB
Kansas City Royals’ Nate Eaton waits for the pitch by Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Sonny Gray as the pitch clock counts down during the fourth inning of a baseball game Saturday, April 1, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

MLB games so far this season have been faster with more offense and more stolen bases, which has led to an increase in TV viewership, perhaps exactly as the league had planned.

MLB’s Opening Day last Thursday was a huge hit on the league’s streaming platform, MLB.tv, which recorded 172 million watched minutes. That total broke the platform’s previous single-day record of 121 million by a whopping 42%. 

However, according to Front Office Sports, it wasn’t just MLB.tv that saw a boost. All of MLB’s TV partners reported strong numbers from opening weekend. Fox Sports’ doubleheader on Saturday saw an average of 2.2 million viewers, which was up 10% from last year, while ESPN’s opening weekend averaged 1.6 million viewers, which was up 11%.

Even though ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” saw a small gain from last year’s average, it was still the most-watched sporting event on cable TV that night among 18-49 age demographic, which is the most coveted demographic.

It’s hard not to think that at least some of this is in response to the league’s new rule changes in the offseason.  

After the first four days of the season, MLB games have been 29 minutes shorter, which is almost entirely connected to the inclusion of the pitch clock. We also covered how the pitch clock, pick-off restrictions, and larger bases have led to a flurry of stolen bases with success rate jumping from 67.4% to 83.3%.

There is also some talk that MLB may have changed the baseballs again as offense is skyrocketing across the league. The league batting average has risen from .230 to .245, slugging percentage is up to .413, which would be the highest since 2019, and home runs per game are up to 1.22 after dipping down to 1.07 last year.  

Whether or not these gains stick will go a long way toward determining if the new rules are making a substantial impact on the way fans are reacting to the game. However, after one week, it seems that baseball may be experiencing a bit of a revitalization. 

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Julio Rodriguez MLB
Seattle Mariners’ Julio Rodriguez steals second as Cleveland Guardians second baseman Andres Gimenez waits for the throw during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, April 1, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)