Thursday night’s 2020 MLB debut Nationals/Yankees game generated the largest audience ever for an Opening Day broadcast on ESPN, making it the most-watched regular-season game on any network since 2011.
ESPN reported an average audience of 4 million viewers, according to Fast Nationals from Nielsen. That put the overall viewership up eight percent from the previous Opening Night record set by the St. Louis Cardinals/Chicago Cubs game on Opening Night in 2017, which drew 3,700,000 viewers. Last night’s telecast was also up 232 percent from last year’s Opening Night telecast between the Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners, which drew 1,200,000 viewers. The Yankees vs. Nationals telecast peaked with 4,480,000 viewers at 8:30 p.m. ET.
The second broadcast, San Francisco at Los Angeles, generated an average audience of 2,764,000 viewers, making it ESPN’s most-watched MLB regular-season late-night game ever. The broadcasts also made impacts in the four local markets: an 8.4 rating in the Washington, D.C., market, the highest-rated regular season MLB game ever on ESPN in the market; a 7.8 rating in the New York market, making it the highest-rated regular season MLB game on ESPN in the market since 2015; a 6.9 rating in the San Francisco market, making it the highest-rated regular season MLB game in the market since 2013; and a 6.8 rating in Los Angeles, making it the highest-rated regular-season MLB game on ESPN in the market, outside of the 2018 tiebreaker game vs. the Colorado Rockies.
ESPN is comparing apples to oranges here: the record comes after the sport shut down after the COVID-19 pandemic, with play resuming in July in a sports-broadcasting terrain consisting mainly of professional soccer. The previous record was set on April 2, when there were plenty of other competing sports broadcasts on the telly.
Still, it’s an impressive accomplishment no matter the caveats: in difficult times, baseball helped distract us from our problems. Let’s hope MLB can finish the season.