As more glamorous teams from bigger markets got knocked out of baseball’s playoffs, Fox Sports President Ed Goren began singing the praises of the City of Brotherly Love.
“Philadelphia is a great baseball town. It is a great sports town. We’ve been getting big numbers out of Philadelphia,” Mr. Goren said after the Phillies knocked of the Los Angeles Dodgers to earn a spot in the World Series, which begins Wednesday. “They’re hungry. They haven’t had a championship, whether it’s basketball, hockey, football or baseball, in a long, long time.”
The Phillies were looking at the prospect of playing either the upstart Tampa Bay Rays or the defending champion Boston Red Sox in the World Series. At press time, the Rays led the Red Sox 3 games to 2 in the American League Championship Series.
Though the prospect of a Phillies-Rays matchup isn’t as exciting—from a ratings standpoint—as, say, the Boston Red Sox taking on the Chicago Cubs, Mr. Goren said he isn’t complaining.
“There’s not a lot of ‘Woe is me,’” he said. “I don’t look at it that way.”
Tampa is not exactly a small market, he said. In fact, it ranks as the 13th-largest television market in the country. On top of that, the Rays are a “young, athletic team” with a great story, going from worst to first.
He noted that in 1997, the World Series had a similar matchup, with the Florida Marlins beating the Cleveland Indians.
That series went seven games and did more than a 23 rating, he said.
“There are so many factors” that go into making a successful World Series, he said. “It’s not just about the teams.”
Mr. Goren said that whatever woe there is, is about the economy. While the credit crisis is having an effect on the advertising market, he said, “We’re in good shape” in terms of sales.
“Let’s put it this way: We won’t be finishing a half-inning and staying at the ballpark. We will be running commercials.”
A source familiar with the situation said Fox is 95% sold out of ad time for the first five games of the World Series.
The playoffs have held challenges for Fox. The Dodgers and Phillies played just five, often lopsided games. There was competition from a presidential debate and a weekday afternoon game.
Those factors contributed to a ratings decline from last year, when Fox aired the American League Championship Series. This year, Fox’s coverage of the National League Championship Series drew an average of 7.4 million, down 35% from the ALCS coverage in 2007.
Mr. Goren noted that the American League is more popular than the National League in baseball.
Last year’s ALCS on Fox went a full seven games, drumming up interest in the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians. Fox figures a fairer comparison would be to consider only prime-time ratings through game five of the championship series. In that case, Fox’s ratings are down 22%.
Though the network’s ratings were lower, the championship games performed better than some of the entertainment programming they replaced on Fox. Game 1 of the Phillies-Dodgers series generated Fox’s best Sunday audience since the Super Bowl and Game 4 was Fox’s highest-rated Monday in 12 weeks.
Game 5 of the National League matchup, in which the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to go to the World Series, ran up against the final presidential debate Wednesday night and drew a 5.1 rating and 8 share, representing 8 million viewers.
Going into Game 6 of the American League series, with the Rays up 3 to 2 against the Red Sox, TBS’ ratings for the ALCS were up 40% following a stirring Red Sox comeback in game five, compared with a year ago when the network aired the NLCS between the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks, two teams from smaller markets with short histories. That series ended in a four-game sweep by Colorado.
For the World Series, Mr. Goren said Fox isn’t planning to add any new bells and whistles to its telecast.
“Historically, you could go through a list of gizmos that have come and gone,” he said.
Instead he noted that over the past few years, baseball has granted the network more access to put microphones on players.
“That audio gets blended in and it takes viewers into the dugout to hear comments from players,” he said. “There’s nothing better than great pictures, great audio and great commentary.”