Rebounding from a disastrous start with postseason baseball, Fox is going into the World Series hoping for a lengthy showdown between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers.
Fox may have been disappointed the New York Mets didn’t win the National League Championship Series because a New York-Detroit series probably would have drawn higher ratings than St. Louis-Detroit. But Fox Sports President Ed Goren said late last week that the most significant factor affecting the ratings is the number of games played. “I’m rooting for a seven-game World Series,” Mr. Goren said. “The number of games is more a factor than who is playing and if the games are competitive.”
Commercials, at $375,000 per 30-second spot, are almost sold out for the first five games. Many of the spots in the as-needed games get sold at the last minute. In general, the later games in a series are the highest-rated. Interest in games grows as a series goes longer, and games that are closer get better ratings than blowouts.
Fox has taken hits the past two seasons as both the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago White Sox swept their way to titles. The White Sox-Houston Astros series last year drew the lowest ratings ever.
This season, the Detroit Tigers got into the World Series by beating the Oakland A’s in the minimum four games, depressing ratings and holding down the number of ad spots Fox could show. Fox was also hurt by rainouts. One rain day eliminated a split-national game (two games played at the same time, with different parts of the country seeing the teams they’re most likely to be interested in) which generally helps ratings, and forced a game to be played on a Friday afternoon, which usually hurts ratings.
Rating for the LCS were down 22 percent through Oct. 20, according to Nielsen Media Research data.
The Cardinals-Mets series going the full seven games, combined with new rules allowing Fox to put extended commercial breaks in this year’s postseason games, helped the network air spots that were scheduled for the unplayed Detroit-Oakland games, worth $185,000 each, and make-good spots to compensate for lower ratings in earlier games.
“We’ve been able to get in a lot more commercials per game than we originally anticipated,” Mr. Goren said. “We come out of the LCS in pretty good shape.”
Through the first 10 games, the LCS averaged a 6 household rating, down 12 percent from last year. Game 7 between the Mets and the Cardinals drew a 12.4 overnight rating, a big number considering the stiff Thursday night competition.
When national ratings come in, Fox expects to be down just 4 percent with a 6.5 rating.
Next year, Fox will air only one of the League Championship Series. Turner Broadcasting’s TBS will carry the other series on cable.
With the short series, Fox probably had some paid units that it wanted to move into the National League series. It didn’t want to lose any revenue from that standpoint, said Ray Dundas, senior VP and group director of national broadcast for ad buyer Initiative.
“Game 7’s do very well, so I think Fox should be in good shape coming out of [last Thursday’s] game,” Mr. Dundas said. “If it would have ended [Wednesday night], then there probably would have been some units in the World Series that they probably would have used to make up, either paid units or [ratings] deficiency units.”
The St. Louis-Detroit series could be a good one for Fox.
“Detroit will be an interesting story, and a World Series between Detroit and either St. Louis or the Mets has a lot going for it,” said consultant Neil Pilson, former president of CBS Sports.
Detroit is the 11th-largest market and the home of the U.S. auto industry, and the Tigers have made a stunning turnaround after nearly setting the record for most losses in 2003.
While not as big a market, St. Louis is “a strong baseball market and has a strong following throughout the Midwest,” thanks to the days when the team was carried on the powerful radio station KMOX, Mr. Pilson said.
“If the World Series goes six or seven games, I think the ratings will be pretty good,” he said.
Even if ratings for the World Series aren’t what they once were, Mr. Goren noted that they are holding up better than other prime-time programming.
While last year’s series drew historically low ratings, it was still the sixth-highest-rated show in prime time for the fourth quarter, he said.
This decade, the World Series has outrated the typical network prime-time programming by 82 percent. That’s up from 69 percent in the 1990s, 58 percent in the ’80s and 52 percent in the ’70s.
“The World Series in prime time is holding up a lot better than most prime-time programming in a world of so many entertainment options, whether it’s the explosion of cable, the Internet, video games or other media, Mr. Goren said.