Fox Net Looking to Play Ball Again

Oct 31, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Despite suffering through a World Series sweep that cost it millions of dollars in potential ad revenue, Fox expects to renew its deal with Major League Baseball.

The four-game Series victory by the Chicago White Sox drew the lowest-ever average for the fall classic, turning in an average 11.1 household rating and a 19 share, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Still, “Everybody involved wants to see the relationship continue,” Fox Sports President Ed Goren said.

Fox’s current six-year $1.5 billion deal for its game of the week and postseason baseball coverage expires after next season. While moving more of the first round of the playoffs to cable is a possibility, Mr. Goren said, “Right now we’re looking at a similar package to what we have.”

While ratings of this year’s World Series were 30 percent lower than last year’s curse-busting Boston Red Sox championship, Mr. Goren noted, “There are three other networks that would have loved those quote-unquote low ratings for those four nights.”

The games made Fox the No. 1 network for four nights, boosted Fox’s ratings among viewers 18 to 49 by 10 percent season to date and provided a solid promotional platform for entertainment shows such as “Prison Break.”

“I don’t think it’s prudent to make a decision based on one year,” Mr. Goren said. “Every other sport would love to have the average ratings that baseball has in the postseason, except the NFL.”

Over the course of Fox’s baseball deal, the World Series has been averaging about six games, he said. The rule of thumb is networks break even once the series goes to five games.

“The World Series for the foreseeable future remains an important sports asset, and I expect Fox will continue its agreement with Major League Baseball,” said Neil Pilson, a sports consultant and former CBS Sports president.

The ratings and short series cut into Fox’s ad revenues, but those losses were minimized by Fox’s decision to increase the average length of its commercial pods in Games 2, 3 and 4 to 2:55 minutes from 2:30. With Game 3 going a record-tying 14 innings, Fox was able to run double the usual number of spots, including make-goods, because the games were underdelivering on guarantees to advertisers, said Mike Law, associate group director at Carat.

Still, with commercials selling for $350,000 to $375,000 for 30 seconds and 60 units available per game, an opportunity for another $67 million in ad revenue was largely lost.

Fox will be able to shift some of those advertising commitments to other programming, including its NASCAR and NFL coverage, but “At the end of the day, if they don’t run and you want your money back, you just get it back,” Mr. Law said.

“You’d rather have six or seven games, but you can certainly live with a short series,” Mr. Pilson said. “Some guys get apocalyptic about it, but in fact it’s just an anticipated business issue that the networks and Major League Baseball deal with every year.”