Los Angeles Times
They’re staging a World Series in New York City. For Fox, which is televising the event, will it be Bust City? The television ratings so far this postseason have been dreadful. And now we have a Series concentrated in one area. Will anyone outside New York care? Is baseball in trouble? Do bad ratings now mean bad times for years to come? Commissioner Bud Selig, for one, remains optimistic. “If we have a dramatic six- or seven-game Series — and I think we will — I think we’ll be fine,” he said. “Overall, I am not troubled by the ratings we’ve had so far (in the postseason). We set attendance records this season, averaging 2 1/2 million fans per franchise. “When you look at the ratings we’ve been getting during the postseason, you have to consider the aberrational factors.” Those factors include the presidential debates and season premieres pushed back because of the late-starting Olympics. In an era of continually expanding cable television and Internet outlets, stories of poor ratings for sports are as commonplace as stories about athletes who get in trouble with the law. And when you have baseball games going up against presidential debates in the middle of a tight race and network premieres of such shows as “E.R.” and “The West Wing,” the result is even worse. The two league championship series drew ratings 32 percent lower than last year’s. The 11 games of the American League Championship Series and the National League Championship Series pulled in a combined average rating of 7.0 with a 13 share on Fox and NBC. The same number of games drew a 10.3/19 on the networks in 1999. In Los Angeles, the NLCS went from a 10.5/20 in 1999 to a 6.8/12; the ALCS from a 8.6/16 to a 7.6/15. Game 6 of the ALCS Tuesday night, in which the Yankees wrapped up a Series berth, got an 8.8/15 on the stations that showed it. As with the first presidential debate, on Oct. 3, NBC gave affiliates the choice of whether to show politics or baseball. Two-thirds of the affiliates showed the game, covering 89 percent of the country. In markets where the debate was shown, NBC arranged for the game to be aired on Pax or independent channels. The two largest TV markets where the game was not seen were Baltimore (24th) and Austin, Texas (61st). The 8.8 rating for Game 6 gave the ALCS a cumulative rating of 7.7. The Mets’ five-game victory in the National League produced the lowest TV ratings ever for a league championship series, a 6.2. That was 18 percent worse than the previous low — the 1998 NLCS between San Diego and Atlanta. Ratings for the first round, the divisional playoffs, on NBC and Fox were down more than 20 percent. ESPN’s coverage of eight division playoff games were 16 percent lower than last year. Fox anticipated it would take a hit because of those factors Selig mentioned. “Give us a call after the Series and we’ll be talking about the highest-rated Series in a number of years,” said Ed Goren, Fox Sports president and executive producer. “Let’s keep things in perspective. Besides the NFL, baseball will be the highest-rated championship of the year.” Delayed telecasts were blamed for the bad ratings for NBC’s coverage of the Olympics. Critics have pointed to the length of games as a major factor for baseball’s low ratings. Critics of the slow play include NBC play-by-play announcer Bob Costas. During the Yankees’ first at-bat Tuesday night, Costas said, “I mean no disrespect to Chuck Knoblauch, but what you’re looking at here is part of baseball’s problem. After every pitch, Knoblauch steps out, does some sort of personal inventory, and then gets back in unchanged from the previous pitch. “You put it all together, along with the lengthy breaks between innings, and during pitching changes, and this is how you have 2-0 games that last almost four hours. “As we said earlier, baseball’s leisurely pace has always been one of its assets. A lethargic pace is an ongoing problem that is reaching epidemic proportions, and I think everybody in baseball is aware of it and concerned about it. Let’s see what they do about it.”
The average length of the 11 league championship series games this year was 3 hours 33 minutes, compared to 305 last year.
Concerning length of games, Selig was quoted early this week in USA Today as saying, “I must say we don’t hear a lot of complaining from fans. This, to them, isn’t a priority in a lot of surveys and studies.”