Results suggest that 10% of would-be MLB viewers instead watch their local NBA team in a playoff game and only 3.6% watch the local NHL playoff game. In cities with two MLB teams and a NHL team, the MLB team A steals away more fans from MLB team B than the local NHL team playing playoff hockey!
Every television program on the air - and increasingly, television programs on demand - compete for the same sets of eyes (my beautiful optometrist girlfriend assures me eyes usually come in sets).
Sporting events are no exception: looking way back to my second ever blog post, I discussed how at least some of the decline in the National Football League's Sunday Night Football broadcasts was due to the timing of the games and other programs like the Cubs-Cleveland World Series game 5 or the 2nd Presidential Debate.
To understand the preferences of consumers, we can use Nielsen television data to observe the changes in viewership when multiple programs air simultaneously. Nielsen is the media company that provides estimates on the number of people who tune in to a given television program.
For this calculation, I focus on Major League Baseball for two reasons: a) the data is readily available, and; b) there are plenty of games with and without overlap from similar television programs. I define a similar television program as a broadcast of other local teams of the four major North American sports leagues (where local is roughly teams in the same city or marketing area). Narrowing the definition to local teams ensures that we capture viewers who actually have a choice between the several options. Therefore, a the local MLB regular-season game can potentially overlap with:
- the local National Football League team's pre-season game;
- the local National Basketball League team's playoff game;
- the local National Hockey League team's playoff game, or;
- the other local Major League Baseball team's regular-season game in the same marketing area, with a focus on when they are not playing each other.
- e.g. New York, New York (not Sinatra but the Mets and Yankees).
I run an estimation to predict the total number of viewers for each MLB game, adding controls for the team, opponent, day of the week, the quality of the teams, and, finally, the availability of alternative sporting events. If the number of viewers declines in response to the availability of one of the aforementioned alternative sporting events, we would say the event and MLB are substitutes for each other. If we assume the 'cost' of watching a given sporting event stays relatively constant over time, the magnitude of the decline becomes an indicator of how strong of a substitute each event is for MLB.
Below is a graphical depiction of the results:
As expected, the number of viewers of the local MLB declines when an alternative sporting program is airing simultaneously. While it is no secret that on a per-game basis NFL is the most watched sport in North America, it is still quite astonishing that 30% of would-be MLB viewers turn off their local baseball team in favour of their local NFL team participating in a pre-season game! Some may argue that NFL pre-season overlaps the MLB regular-season at a time when the post-season fate of many MLB teams has already been decided and there is very little excitement in watching a losing MLB team finish out a season. But the estimation described above does in fact control for the quality of the MLB team meaning that on average, whether the team is leading the division or a perennial basement dweller, 30% of their fans rather watch a 'meaningless' pre-season NFL game.
Furthermore, 10% of would-be MLB viewers instead watch their local NBA team in a playoff game and only 3.6% watch the local NHL playoff game: in cities with two MLB teams and a NHL team, MLB team A steals away more fans from MLB team B than the NHL team playing intense playoff hockey takes from MLB team B!
While I would not necessarily prefer to watch the local NBA playoff game over the local NHL game (and likely never watch a pre-season NFL game), what do you guys think? Do the results seem reasonable? If all were playing at the same time, which would you choose to watch?
Let me know in the comments!
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