World Series Preview: Inside Fox’s October Showcase

There’s joy in Mudville as baseball continues to deliver

Critics are quick to harp on baseball’s declining fortunes, noting that ratings for the Fall Classic have been in general decline for the last several years. And while it’s true that deliveries are on a downward slide, baseball essentially holds a mirror up to the broadcast marketplace at large.

For example, the last time NBC hosted the World Series, Bill Clinton had recently sloughed off impeachment and was serving out the remainder of his second term. In 1999, the Peacock averaged 23.7 million viewers with its four-game Yankees-Braves set. That same year, the network aired six of TV’s top 10 shows, including the No. 1 drama series, E.R. (24.9 million/12.0 rating) and the No. 1 comedy, Friends (21 million/10.6).

Compare those numbers with today’s fragmented landscape, where the fall’s top-rated TV show is on cable (AMC’s The Walking Dead) and a 1.5 in the demo is good enough for a back-nine order. (You’d have to go back nine seasons to find a scripted series that delivered a 10.0 in the dollar demo—Season 1 of ABC’s Desperate Housewives averaged a 10.4.)

Given how low the broadcast bar has been set—NBC won Week 4 of the 2012-12 season with a 2.6 in the demo, the sort of number that would trigger a defenestration or two in the era of Must-See TV—the World Series actually looks like a good bet for media buyers. “Every fall, we get 20 hours of a top 10 hit, which works out to basically an entire season of a top-rated show,” says Mike Mulvihill, svp of programming and research for Fox Sports. “As a baseline, that’s a really good place to be.”

Mulvihill allows that the absence of a powerhouse franchise like the Yankees or Red Sox takes some of the padding out of the ratings projections, before adding that San Francisco and Detroit aren’t exactly one-horse towns.

“San Francisco is the No. 6 DMA and Detroit is No. 11,” Mulvihill says. “These are big, dynamic markets.”

Still, so much depends on an extended run. Two years ago, when the Giants met the Texas Rangers—Arlington is in the No. 5 Dallas-Fort Worth DMA—Fox posted the second-lowest deliveries in Series history. That matchup lasted just five games.

Likewise, the rain-soaked Phillies-Rays slog in 2008 was hampered by everything from meteorological delays, smaller DMAs and a five-game run. When the sun set on that Series, Fox had averaged just 13.6 million viewers.

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