MLB’s Opening Day wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. Among other setbacks, Juan Soto was diagnosed with COVID hours before first pitch, Clayton Kershaw was scratched with a back injury, Dr. Anthony Fauci pulled a 50 Cent and the night’s marquee event, Yankees/Nationals, lasted all of six innings thanks to a biblical downpour in D.C.
But the worldwide leader wasn’t sweating it. And why would they? ESPN’s Yankees/Nationals broadcast did gangbusters, seeing an average of four million viewers, making it the most-watched regular-season game on any network since 2011 and the highest-rated Opening Night contest on record. The nightcap featuring the Los Angeles Dodgers and visiting San Francisco Giants didn’t draw quite as many eyes (it averaged 2.764 million viewers) but still made ratings history on ESPN as the most-watched MLB regular-season game in its time slot (10 PM ET). Per Eric Ting of the San Francisco Chronicle, Dodgers/Giants earned a 6.9 share in San Francisco alone, making it the most-viewed regular-season game in that market since 2013.
The viewing public’s lust for live sports after a long layoff and a lack of other programming alternatives—none of the other major sports leagues are in session, though the NBA returns next week—no doubt contributed to MLB’s seismic ratings boost. According to the Associated Press, Thursday’s Yankees broadcast drew a peak audience of 4.48 million at 8:30 ET, the most for a regular-season game since August 7, 2011 when 4.7 million viewers tuned in to see Boston down the Yankees in extra innings. That game also aired on ESPN.
Yankees/Nationals put some distance between itself and ESPN’s previous Opening Day high of 3.7 million viewers achieved on April 2, 2017 when Randal Grichuk walked it off with a ninth-inning single to beat the Cubs in a 4-3 St. Louis victory. Thursday also represented a steep rise in viewership from last year’s Opening Night game between the Mariners and Red Sox (the M’s thumped Chris Sale in a 12-4 Seattle rout), which was seen by only 1.2 million.
While the games themselves were flops—Thursday’s rain-abbreviated pitcher duel’s in Washington and the Dodgers’ 8-1 laugher over San Francisco didn’t quite meet the criteria of “instant classics”—at least business is still booming on MLB’s television front.