| Detroit Free Press
Detroit Tigers GM Al Avila explains manager search, offseason expectations
Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila speaks with reporters Friday, October 2, 2020, following his team’s season to share offseason expectations.
Detroit Tigers play-by-play broadcaster Matt Shepard won’t call himself a leader. He prefers to be known as a teammate, alongside Kirk Gibson, Jack Morris, Dan Petry, Craig Monroe, and many more on-air and behind-the-scenes talents at Fox Sports Detroit.
Yet through the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, like broadcasting road games from the studio in Southfield, Shepard anchored the crew in delivering baseball to an average of nearly 60,000 households in Metro Detroit, a 7% viewership increase from 2019.
“I’m pleased, but I’m not surprised,” FSD senior vice president and general manager Greg Hammaren said Friday. “The team was playing meaningful games in September. That’s all we could ask for.”
FSD’s 3.4 household rating — a 10% improvement from last year — ranked No. 11 in MLB, and the 59,000-household viewership came in No. 10.
Overall, MLB ratings declined 11% and viewership dropped 13%.
The Tigers finished 23-35 and in last place of the American League Central for the fourth time in the six years, but were in contention for the AL’s eighth and final spot in the expanded 16-team postseason through early September. They lost 19 of their final 25 games.
This season was unlike any other because fans weren’t allowed to attend games for the regular season at any major-league ballpark.
The No. 1 watched game was Opening Day, a July 27 matchup with the Cincinnati Reds. Not far behind was 2018 top draft pick Casey Mize‘s MLB debut, an Aug. 19 clash against the Chicago White Sox. Each month of the season produced at least one of the top 10 highest-rated games. However, the average household rating declined each month, from a 4.8 in July, to 3.6 in August and 2.8 in September.
“Fans were clearly excited and energized to see somebody like Casey Mize,” Hammaren said. “Normally (in a 162-game season), it would not have a significant impact. But in this shortened season, I think it had a bit of a larger impact. We’re hoping for and expecting great things from Casey and the entire recent draft classes.”
Also, FDS grew in streaming viewership, jumping 34% from 2019 to 9,900 streams per game on Fox Sports Go. The total minutes streamed improved 26% to 329,000 per game. Based on the streaming data in recent years, the expectation is it will continue to rapidly grow. Sinclair Broadcast Group, the parent company of FSD, is releasing a new streaming application by the 2021 season.
For the overall success, Hammaren tipped his cap to his entire crew. He specifically noted Shepard, Gibson, Morris and Petry — each coming into the year without any experience calling road games from a remote location.
“They were also aided exponentially by our crew,” Hammaren said. “They built out an amazing facility that replicated every view in the building and as much of the ambiance of a broadcast booth as they possibly could to make them feel at home. If you watched an away game, I challenge you to tell me you had a hard time knowing that they weren’t there.”
Already gearing up for the 2021 season, Hammaren doesn’t expect changes to the on-air talents, and is pleased with the way Shepard has embraced a leadership role — whether he wants to admit it or not — to bring the team together.
“He’s in such awe of working with Dan Petry, Jack Morris and Kirk Gibson,” Hammaren said. “He doesn’t look at himself as a leader of those guys. He looks at himself as a support player. For those of us in management, I would say he’s the captain of the broadcast team.
“It’s easy to rally with him.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content.