Ratings Roundup: Riveting MLB Finale Earns ESPN Largest Wednesday-Night Audience Since ’98 Home-Run Chase

ESPN’s heart-pounding coverage of the final night of the MLB regular season was the most-viewed Wednesdaynight telecast since 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in the midst of their epic chase for the single-season home-run record. The ESPN telecast (7 p.m.-midnight ET), which focused on Boston’s dramatic rain-delayed 4-3 loss to Baltimore but switched among the other wild-card-chase games, notched a 1.6 household coverage rating, 1.55 million household impressions, and 2.12 million viewers. That is the largest audience since ESPN’s McGwire-driven St. Louis-Houston telecast on Sept. 23, 1998, generated a 2.7 rating, 2.04 million household impressions, and 2.675 million viewers.

Immediately after the Red Sox game ended, ESPN provided live coverage (12:05-12:14 a.m.) of Tampa Bay’s extra-inning, walk-off victory against the New York Yankees — securing the Rays a postseason berth over the Red Sox and delivering a 2.8 rating, 2.775 million household impressions, and 3.84 million viewers.

ESPN2’s Wednesday Night Baseball telecast — Philadelphia’s extra-inning 4-3 win over Atlanta, eliminating the Braves from the postseason — posted a 0.9 rating, 904,000 household impressions, and 1.18 million viewers…

…On the season, ESPN’s 69 regular-season MLB telecasts were up almost across the board from last year’s 66 telecasts. Viewership was up 5% (1,449,000 vs. 1,386,000), households were up 3% (1,125,000 vs. 1,093,000), and ratings were even (1.1). Sunday Night Baseball’s audience also grew this season, with viewership up 5% (2,294,000 vs. 2,177,000), households up 4% (1,720,000 vs. 1,656,000), and ratings even (1.7).

In terms of digital and mobile platforms, Sept. 28 was the highest-traffic day of the 2011 regular season for MLB content on ESPN digital platforms. More than 150,000 unique viewers generated nearly 9.2 million minutes of ESPN3.com viewing, with an average time spent of one hour.

As for ESPN.com, the MLB section had more than 2.7 million unique visitors yesterday (up 56% vs. average day during the 2011 season), the MLB section logged an average minute audience of 19,000 users, (up 65%), MLB GameCast generated 500,000 unique visitors (up 205%)

On ESPN Mobile Web, Yankees-Rays GameCast posted 360,000 unique visitors and 1.9 million total minutes spent; Phillies-Braves GameCast generated 332,000 unique visitors and 2.6 million total minutes spent; Red Sox-Orioles GameCast netted 325,000 unique visitors and 1.7 million total minutes spent.

For the season, MLB content on ESPN’s mobile properties was up 27% in total minutes and 20% in visits from 2010. ESPN.com’s MLB section was up 25% in total minutes and 17% in visits over last year…

…ESPN wasn’t the only network benefitting from the down-to-the-wire MLB finish, as the Cardinals’ playoff-clinching win over the Astros earned an 18.0 rating on Fox Sports Midwest in the St. Louis market Wednesday night, the network’s highest-rated program ever. For the season, Cardinals games averaged a 9.0 on FS Midwest, the second-best mark in Major League Baseball — but down 5% from last year (9.5)…

…In addition, last Friday’s Diamondbacks-Giants game drew a 6.8 rating on Fox Sports Arizona, the highest-rated Diamondbacks game on the network since May 2008 (Mets-Diamondbacks: 7.1). Arizona clinched the NL West division with the victory.