With Sunday night's seventh game of the American League Championship Series drawing record ratings for TBS, Fox Sports is hoping that some of that magic rubs off on the baseball World Series.
The matchup between the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays, however exciting in terms of baseball purism, isn't likely to set the TV ratings world afire. In fact, some fear it could be the lowest-rated World Series ever.
"You could hear the groans coming up because it isn't the Red Sox-Dodgers," said Aaron Cohen, chief media negotiator at New York-based ad buyer Horizon Media.
Fox's World Series hopes started off promising, with the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox — all representing major TV markets — in the playoffs.
But the Cubs, Angels and White Sox fell in the first round and the Dodgers were eliminated by the Phillies in the National League Championship Series. The low-profile Rays, the worst team in baseball last year, then finished off the defending champion Red Sox on Sunday night.
Cohen said that working against the World Series, which begins Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Fla., is the fact that there are two East Coast teams. A series that lasts the minimum of four games would also hurt the ratings.
"I don't think it's going to be a barn burner," Cohen said.
In the past 10 years, the highest-rated Fall Classic was the seven-game Florida Marlins-Cleveland Indians matchup, which averaged a 16.7 rating/29 share, or about 24.8 million viewers. There have only been three others since then to go over 15, most recently the 2004 Series in which Boston ended an 86-year drought to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in four straight.
Even the Red Sox, who are about as close to ratings money as you can get, averaged only a 10.6 rating (17.1 million viewers) last year in their four-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies. The New York Yankees averaged a 12.8 (13.8 million viewers) in their six-game loss to the Marlins in 2003. The lowest World Series ratings ever came in 2006, when the five-game Cardinals-Tigers series averaged a 10.1/17, or 15.8 million viewers.
But Sports president Ed Goren remains optimistic.
"These two markets will do well. It's not just about the matchups," he said. "As important as anything else is the length of the series and the volume. If we get six or seven games, we'll outrate last year's Red Sox World Series."
Goren looks to the 1997 Series, with a relatively unknown Marlins up against the Indians. Game 7 averaged a 24.5 rating (38 million viewers) as Florida won.
"Imagine a 16.7 rating for seven nights? That's an unheard of number ... but I think there are parallels here," Goren said.
"The last two (Red Sox-Rays) games certainly helped build toward the World Series, and hopefully we'll keep it going," he added.
Sunday night's Game 7 averaged 13.3 million viewers, making it the highest-rated baseball game in cable history and the top-rated telecast on any kind on TBS, Nielsen Media Research said. A Chicago Cubs-St. Louis Cardinals game on ESPN in 1998 which the Cards' Mark McGwire tied the single-season home run record was cable's previous best.