One factor that tends to get overlooked when crunching the ratings numbers is the value of the viewer. Per Nielsen, the median income of World Series viewers last year was $61,000, which is 18 percent above the total U.S. average ($50,054). The bank statements are even stronger when the target demo is broken out; median income for the men 18-49 who tuned in to the 2011 Fall Classic was $70,100.
“There’s a lot to like in the World Series audience,” Mulvihill says. “Upper-income males are notoriously hard to reach because they don’t watch nearly as much TV. And when you have a property that reaches this kind of scale and 97 percent of the audience is live? That’s a big advantage.”
As much as baseball is a graying sport (the median age of the 2011 World Series was 52.5 years), the trend is of a piece with the aging broadcast audience. That said, Fox manages to hold its own among the younger male demos. When compared to the rest of the prime-time landscape, the 2011 World Series ranked No. 3 among men 18-34 (5.2) and male teens (3.0) and took fourth among men in their 20s.
“For 40 years people have been saying, ‘we’re losing the kids, we’re losing the kids,’ but the historical numbers tell a different story,” Mulvihill says. “Kids grow into baseball. Twenty years ago, the Series was ranked 26th among boys 2-11. Now they’re all grown up and our ratings for men in the 21-29 range were the fourth highest on TV.”
While Mulvihill didn’t hazard a guess as to how long this year’s World Series would endure, Vegas betting lines are leaning heavily on a Tigers win in six. The grail, of course, is a winner-take-all Game 7, which in this case would take place on the night after Halloween.
“For the most part, ratings for Games 1 through 6 tend to be very consistent. A lot of the same fans are tuning in night after night,” Mulvihill says. “But if you’re lucky enough to catch a Game 7, that changes everything. It becomes a spectacle, a major event—and even casual fans want to be a part of it.”
Fox’ coverage of the 2012 World Series starts tonight at 8 p.m. EDT, as Verlander (17-8) squares off against the resurgent Giants southpaw Barry Zito (15-8).