The third straight awful season for the Astros coupled with the lack of a deal with cable providers to carry CSN Houston has made for abysmal television ratings for the team. How bad? Well, you would have to go back to the 2008 Washington Nationals to find a worse local TV ratings number than the .43 the Astros posted the first half of this season. That's an average of 10,000 households.
Certainly much can be blamed on the team being dead last once again in the standings, but a young team showing some signs of life, it can be assumed, should find some interest from even casual fans looking for a ray of hope. But when your games only make it into roughly 40 percent of Houston homes, it is a recipe for disaster.
A report from Sports Business Journal (subscription only) indicates the Astros' ratings are down 66 percent from last season. That drop-off corresponds perfectly with the lack of a deal between CSN Houston and cable providers like U-verse, DirecTV and Dish Network. The inability to strike a deal has affected both the Astros and the Rockets, who are part owners in the channel. Neither team has been seen outside Comcast and several smaller carriers since the channel's inception last fall.
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The Astros' precipitous drop can also be traced to their third straight losing season, finding them on pace for yet another 100 losses, putting them in historic company as they lurch towards records they do not want to break.
But ultimately, the problem lies mostly at the feet of CSN Houston and their lack of carriage deals with cable providers. As pointed out in the SBJ article, as other teams with regional sports networks (RSNs) have worked out deals with additional carriers, their ratings have gone up.
Another RSN with distribution problems, FS San Diego, has posted the biggest percentage ratings increase this season among U.S.-based MLB teams. San Diego Padres games have the third-lowest average audience among teams monitored by SportsBusiness Journal, but the team's 2.74 rating (29,000 homes) is up 52 percent from last year, somewhat surprising considering the team's below-.500 record.
The main difference: AT&T and Dish Network started carrying FS San Diego this year; last year, they didn't. That means Padres games can be seen by more San Diego subscribers than last year. Time Warner Cable remains the main holdout, refusing to carry FS San Diego.
If the Padres can get into 29,000 homes, it seems shocking the Astros -- even with only Comcast as a carrier -- can't get into more than 10,000, but that's the reality. Until the Astros, Rockets and CSN can come to some arrangement with cable providers, the ratings will no doubt continue to plummet.