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Nielsen: St. Louis has the top local fan base in MLB

Before the barbs start flying, I want to make it clear that I not here to argue the emotionally-charged term “best fans in baseball,” words most often misused and abused by supporters of the St. Louis Cardinals and critics alike.

Yet there is one title that can be indisputably applied. The Cardinals had the top local fan base in Major League Baseball in 2013, according to research by The Nielsen Company.

Nielsen has released its annual “Year in Sports Media” report for 2013. The firm labels it “a compilation of media highlights, advertiser trends and consumer insights across leading sports properties.”

Among the items in the 32-page report include hours of sports programming available to viewers and hours viewed, time spent by fans viewing sports sites on computers and smartphones by year and even by race, plus much more.

The report has sections on each of the major professional leagues, the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL, plus motor sports, golf, soccer, NCAA basketball and football, as well as a quick snapshot of other sporting events not included in the above categories, and a global view of sports.

Data reported includes top events watched, viewer demographics, key apps, top advertisers and the top local fan bases. The latter is defined by the “% of population that has watched, attended or listened to the team in the past 12 months.”

Here are the results for MLB.

Top five local fan bases, Major League Baseball, 2013

  1. St. Louis Cardinals – 76 percent
  2. Cincinnati Reds – 69 percent
  3. Detroit Tigers – 68 percent
  4. Boston Red Sox – 66 percent
  5. Milwaukee Brewers – 65 percent

In terms of baseball viewership on television, the long-term ratings success of FOX Sports Midwest has often been reported, including right here. Nielsen singles it out as well – “Detroit and St. Louis have had more consistent success, and led their leagues in local household ratings with the Tigers averaging 9.6 and the Cards 8.7 in 2013.”

The report notes the six-game World Series between Boston and St. Louis was the most-watched MLB event of the year, averaging 14.9 million viewers and 4.3 million related tweets. Series viewership was 18 percent higher than in 2012. The All-Star Game was second at 11 million.

Though radio listening to baseball games is an afterthought to many, it is not the case in St. Louis.

In the St. Louis metro area, across the most desirable demographic to advertisers, men aged 25-54 accounted for 37.3 percent of the radio audience tuned to the 2013 World Series. KMOX’ audience was up 65 percent over the regular-season rate of 22.6 percent.

In other related demographic data, 39 percent of the St. Louis World Series radio listeners are women. 52 percent of the local radio listeners make $75,000 or more per year.

In conclusion, “best fans” is an ambiguous term best ignored. Yet the data clearly affirms that St. Louisans follow their team more than do residents of any other Major League Baseball city.

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7 Responses to “Nielsen: St. Louis has the top local fan base in MLB”

  1. Lou Schuler says:

    Good to know, Brian. Especially nice to see confirmation of strong female support for the Cardinals. I grew up in a family of Cardinal fanatics, including my mom and two sisters.

    Also not surprised to see Boston with such broad support. A friend of mine who lives there joked that St. Louis and Boston are the only cities in the U.S. where they talk about baseball on sports radio on Christmas. Conversely, here in PA, they talk about football on the Fourth of July. In the middle of a pennant race, or the NBA playoffs, I rarely hear much about baseball or basketball.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I have a good friend who is from NY but lives in Philly now. We had a number of exchanges last fall when the Deadspin backlash about the “best fans in baseball” was in the news. When I tried to explain to this native East Coaster the extent that Cardinals baseball means to so many in the Midwest, I didn’t have firm data like this in hand in support. (I admit I forwarded him the link to this post this morning.)

      Of course, the whole who is “best” is an inherently ridiculous discussion, but I believe the depth of Cardinals fandom to be real.

      • Lou Schuler says:

        I think you’re right. Part of it is simply a lack of options. I was a passionate Big Red fan in the ’70s and early ’80s, but when they moved to Phoenix I gave up on the NFL altogether.

        Hockey is great for hockey fans, but it’s never going to capture an entire city’s passion this far south.

        What else is there in St. Louis? SLU is having a dream season, but even though it’s the only basketball team in town, it’s still a small private school. I’ve watched almost every Mizzou game on ESPN networks this winter, and I see a lot of empty seats in that arena. (I assume the weather is a big factor. We’re getting pounded here, and Missouri seems to have gotten it even worse than the East Coast.)

        But getting back to the noxious “best fans in baseball” thing: When I lived in St. Louis, I thought we collectively took pride in appreciating the nuances of the game, even when our opponents pulled them off. I haven’t lived there in 20+ years, so maybe it’s changed. From a distance, though, it looked like outsiders picked up on it to mock our fans. I never noticed any actual Cardinal fans making the claim. Of course I could be way off about that.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    The fan participation rate for the Cards is 10 percent higher than the second place team. That seems a strong first place difference.

    4 of the top 5 teams are from the Midwest. Milwaukee has not been in the playoffs since 2011, but still has a strong fan participation rate. Good job by cheeseheads.

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