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Reynolds Rap

Nielsen Life Left In The Old Ballgame

10/31/2011 8:42 AM

It may have taken a lead-in for the ages, but Fox scored big with its coverage of Game 7 of the St. Louis-Texas World Series.

Fox closed out what was truly a Fall Classic with a 14.7 rating/25 share and 25.4 million viewers for its Game 7 telecast on Oct. 29, the highest-rated and most-watched MLB contest since the Boston Red Sox swept away the Cardinals and the 86-year “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004 with an 18.2 rating average, 28 share and 28.8 million watchers. Given Friday night’s low HUT levels, Game 7 might have tacked on another 10% in audience, said Fox officials, if it had been played as scheduled.

Projected comparisons between Thursday –the original night for Game 7 until rain shut out Game 6 on Oct. 26 — aside, the Oct. 28 telecast was Fox’s highest-rated Friday night program ever and TV’s highest-rated and most-watched since NBC’s presentation of the opening ceremony from Vancouver at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

St. Louis led all markets with a 52.7/80, peaking with a 62.4/89 in the final quarter hour when David Murphy’s fly ball to left landed in Allen Craig’s glove sealing the Cardinals’ 11th World Series title, and as it turned apparently the final act in Tony LaRussa’s 33-year managerial career. Dallas — apparently the Friday Night Lights effect couldn’t even be dimmed  with the Rangers seeking the franchise’s first crown — averaged a 40.3/61 for the night.

Since 1996 when Fox began airing World Series games, the network, which won six out of seven this time around, has triumphed on 64 of 75 primetime nights, an .853 average for those keeping a Nielsen scorecard.

Coupled with 21.1 million watchers for the amazing Game 6 — St. Louis came back on five different occasions as Texas twice came within a final strike of winning the World Series before succumbing 10-9 in the 11th inning on MVP David Freese’s homer to center — Fox rallied to average a 10.0/16 and 16.6 million watchers, a 19% gain from the 8.4/14 and 14.3 million viewers for the San Francisco Giants’ five-game win over the Rangers.

While the length, quality and excitement of the 2011 Series helped Fox overcome the DMA deficit of St. Louis (market No. 21) versus the Bay Area (No. 6), the enthusiasm over the results needs to be muted when measured against these realities: 2011 was still the fourth-lowest Series on record, ahead of only the 2008 rain-marred five-game affair between Tampa and Philadelphia (13.6 million); San Fran-Texas (14.3 million over five games in 2010) and St. Louis-Detroit (15.8 million over five games in 2006).

It also lagged ABC’s 17.3 million average for Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks’ feel-good upset over the Miami Heat in six games during the 2011 NBA Finals. That tightly contested series no doubt benefited from the nation’s decision to loathe the Heat’s LeBron James.

Which begs the question, why doesn’t baseball translate as well as nationally as hoops? People root, root, root and watch, watch, watch the home team all spring, summer and fall, generating thousands of GRPs across regional sports networks in the process. If you’ve devoted hundreds of hours to watching your club throughout the season, why wouldn’t you want to see how the sport’s ultimate Series plays out?

The NFL, NBA and even the NHL see their respective audiences build substantially throughout their playoffs and into their championships. Why doesn’t MLB’s showcase reap a similar ratings’ rise?

September