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Fewer Eyes on Baseball's Prize

Postseason TV ratings plummet, thanks in part to rain and short series. Selig insists it's all good.

October 17, 2006|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

The television ratings for postseason baseball on Fox appear to be dropping faster than a Tom Glavine sinker.

The five first-round games televised by the network averaged a 4.9 rating, down from last year's 6.6.

Game 2 of the National League Championship Series between the New York Mets and the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night couldn't beat an old game show. Or even a new one.

Game 4 Sunday night came in No. 4, well behind the front-runner, "Desperate Housewives."

Commissioner Bud Selig, who keeps a close eye on baseball's ratings, doesn't feel desperate, though.

"Under the circumstances, we're pleased with the overall ratings," he said Monday. "And now we've got a chance of having a seven-game series with the Mets and Cardinals. It takes time to build to a climax, and so far we've had a lot of short series."

Two of the four first-round series ended in three-game sweeps, and the other two were over in four games. And then the Detroit Tigers swept the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series.

Short series may not build drama or a bigger audience, but they don't necessarily mean bad news for Fox financially. The many pitching changes that have occurred so far have allowed Fox to air more commercials. An average 30-second prime time spot is believed to go for $185,000.

Still, viewer numbers haven't looked great.

Game 2 of the NLCS Friday night drew a 6.1 national rating, down slightly from a 6.2 for the comparable game last year. But that Friday night game was beaten by two NBC game shows. A new one, "1 vs. 100," drew a 7.8/13. "Deal or No Deal" got a 7.3/13.

Saturday night's Game 3 drew an overnight 5.7, which compares with a 6.5 for Game 4 of the 2005 American League Championship Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Angels.

Sunday's Game 4 got only a 6.4 national Nielsen overnight rating with a 10 share. The comparable game last year -- Game 5 of the ALCS -- got an overnight 8.8/14.

But Game 4 also was up against tough competition. "Desperate Housewives" on ABC got a 13.6/19, CBS' "60 Minutes," which featured a much-publicized report on the Duke lacrosse scandal, received a 12.9 overnight rating, and CBS' "Without a Trace" got a 10.8.

"Every year, MLB's postseason faces the toughest competition in all of television and consistently holds its own against any program on any network," said Dan Bell, vice president for communications at Fox Sports.

"And just as important, each game attracts the coveted, hard-to-reach male demographic audience."

Even so, rain in New York last week and St. Louis on Monday night hasn't helped. The postponement of Game 1 of the NLCS in New York led to programming changes.

Instead of having a split national telecast last Wednesday -- which, according to Bell, would have attracted a better rating -- the network ended up with an unplanned day game Friday. That spot went to Game 3 of the ALCS between the A's and Tigers. The Mets-Cardinals Game 2 again went prime time.

Another factor in the declining ratings is that the Dodgers and New York Yankees, big-market teams with national followings, were eliminated in the first round. Tom Lasorda, who was hired by Major League Baseball to do ads promoting the postseason, said Monday that a Yankees-Dodgers World Series would have drawn a large television audience.

"Those two teams would have linked the nation," the Hall of Fame manager said, quickly adding that he believes the World Series can still do well.

"The Tigers are an amazing story, the way they have come back. I think it would be better if the Mets get in, but St. Louis is a great, interesting team."

In the national ratings for the second round through Friday, Fox was down 15% from a year ago. And the network was off 7% in the overnight ratings through the weekend.

Overnight ratings cover 55 of the nation's largest markets. National ratings for the weekend games were not available Monday.

"In a perfect world, yes, we'd like the ratings to be better," Selig said. "But by every other barometer that we measure our success, everything is so positive. We set attendance records throughout baseball and local ratings overall were up."

In Los Angeles, the Dodgers averaged a 1.7 on FSN Prime Ticket this season, up from a 1.3 last year, and averaged a 2.4 on Channel 9, up from a 2.1. The Dodgers' over-the-air station last year was Channel 13.

After this season, Fox will be cutting back on its postseason baseball coverage, partially because of the competition it faces in the fall and also to give its own fall entertainment lineup more early exposure.

Under a new contract that takes effect next fall, Fox will not televise the first round of the playoffs and will televise only one league championship series, plus the World Series. TBS has the first round and the carrier of the other league championship series has not been determined.

Selig addressed two other issues that could affect ratings over the long haul, both of which he said will be discussed with owners during baseball's winter meetings in December.

One issue is a change in the format for the first round to make it more challenging for wild-card teams. One way to do that, he said, would be to give a wild-card team only one home game in the best-of-five series.

The other issue to be reviewed involves playing at least one World Series game during the day. The problem with that, he said, is ratings. Night games, even on the weekends, get better ratings because more people are watching television.

larry.stewart@latimes.com

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