NEW YORK — More people watched ESPN’s coverage of the Sept. 28 playoff baseball game in primetime between the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants than any other non-football cablecast in the network’s history.
The game scored an 8.1 Nielsen rating in cable homes, good for 6.1 million households. That rating was actually lower than the 9.5 that ESPN chalked up on Labor Day for the afternoon game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cubs. That game sparked unprecedented numbers because it featured the Cards’ Mark McGwire and the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa in their contest to break Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs in a year.
But ESPN’s researchers say that, as part of its contract with Major League Baseball, the network fed its Sept. 28 wild-card playoff coverage to WGN, the Tribune-owned TV station in Chicago, and to KTVU, the Cox O&O in San Francisco. WGN harvested a 31.6 rating, good for 1 million homes in the Chicago area, and KTVU chalked up an 18.4 rating, or 435,000 homes.
When ESPN adds the WGN and KTVU viewers to its existing cable- and satellite dish subscribers, the 7.5 million household total pulls the wild-card game a fraction ahead of the Labor Day household figure, according to ESPN.
The Sept. 28 game benefited from giving Sosa some more at-bats to potentially pad his home run total of 66, No. 2 to McGwire’s 70. Sosa went 2-for-4 in the game, and both hits were singles.