Falling Classic


The Boston Red Sox and their fans put a ribbon on the 2013 Major League Baseball season with a rolling rally throughout The Hub on Nov. 2, celebrating their victory in the 109th World Series. The 25 Duck Boats carrying the ballplayers and team executives began at Fenway Park and paused when they reached the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Bolyston Street, where the Patriots Day bombings killed three spectators and wounded 265 others.

The Bosox’ bearded grinders capped a worst-to-first finish, with Big Papi and Jon Lester leading the way during an odd Fall Classic. The Red Sox were the best team in baseball throughout the season and better than the St. Louis Cardinals when it mattered most, helping to salve some of the wounds of their city. Boston Strong.

Fox ‘s World Series ratings were strong -- at least stronger than those of recent vintage. Buoyed by Boston’s clincher in Game 6 that averaged an 11.3 rating and 19.2 million viewers-- the top show on TV on Oct. 30 and the highest-rated baseball telecast since Game 7 of the 2011 World Series –- the six-game 2013 set averaged an 8.9 rating and 14.9 million watchers, gains of 17% from a 7.6 and 12.7 million a year ago. San Francisco’s four-game sweep of Detroit, though, was the Fall Classic’s all-time nadir with the Nielsens.

Overall, Boston-St. Louis was the fourth-lowest World Series of all time, ahead of only 2012, the Giants’ five-game win over the Texas Rangers (8.4, 14.3 million) in 2010 and the weather-impaired 2008 affair in which Philadelphia topped Tampa in five games (8.4, 13.6 million).

Fox officials put a positive spin on the WS uptick and the 2013 MLB campaign overall.

“This baseball season has been a tremendous success across the board for Fox Sports, and 2014 can’t get here soon enough,” said Fox Sports president and COO Eric Shanks.  “Our postseason coverage [Boston derailed Detroit in six) saw a 26% jump year-to-year, while ratings for the All-Star Game grew, we posted solid numbers at Fox Deportes and several of our regional sports networks had record-setting seasons and dominated prime time from April through September.  Next season will bring MLB to Fox Sports 1 and with it hours of studio coverage and original programs.” 

All true, but the 2013 Series should have done better. This wasn’t the Kansas City Royals and the San Diego Padres. These were two of baseball’s storied franchises, and four of the six games were highly competitive (alas, the opener closed early behind myriad Cardinal fielding foul-ups and Boston jumped up six after the third inning in the clincher).

World Series games start late and seem to last forever. Pitching changes, batters stepping in and out of the box. Strikeouts and walks. Hitters looking to run up the pitch count. Contests stretch toward midnight in a society geared toward the instantaneous. Young kids -- the generation to come with wallets and remotes -- don't get to see much of the action.

These and other reasons are why the Fall Classic has fallen behind the NBA Finals in five of the past six years. The 2013 NBA Finals dunked a 10.5 rating, 17.7 million viewers for Miami-San Antonio over seven games versus an 8.9 and 14.9 million watchers for Boston-St. Louis over six World Series contests; the 2012 Finals averaged a 10.1 and 16.9 million for Miami-Oklahoma City over five games versus a 7.6 and 12.7 million for the four San Francisco-Detroit games; the 2011 Finals posted a 10.2, 17.3 million for six Dallas-Miami matchups versus a 10.0, 16.6 million for the seven-gamer between St. Louis and Texas; the 2010 Finals scored a 10.6 and 18.1 million for seven Los Angeles Lakers-Boston battles versus an 8.4 and 14.3 million for five San Francisco-Texas tilts; the 2009 World Series delivered an 11.7 and 19.4 million viewers for six New York Yankees-Philadelphia games versus an 8.4, 14.3 million for five LAL-Orlando contests; and the 2008 Finals recorded a 9.3, 14.9 million for six Boston-LAL confrontations versus an 8.4, 13.6 million for the five-gamer between Philly-Tampa.  

A regional sport, baseball fills local fans' lives in stadiums and TV rooms from April through September. But having made the investment of hundreds of hours regular-season viewing, not enough are turning the dial to the playoffs or the Series unless their team -- or perhaps their nemesis -- is in the mix.

People will watch the Cincinnati Bengals in the postseason, but not the Cincinnati Reds. Neither is a national team by any means.

As we know, pro football is the undisputed king of the Nielsens, and with LeBron James playing in the last three Finals – and perhaps several more to come -- the NBA has solidified its reign over the Series.

Granted the NBA championships series doesn't run up against pro football, or the just completed broadcast TV season, whereas the World Series rubs helmets with the early weeks of the new primetime campaign, Sunday and Monday Night Football, college pigskin, the opening month of the NHL and the tipoff of the NBA season.

Maybe it will take the Chicago Cubs, whose last title dates to 1908 and World Series appearance to 1945, to restoke the embers of the falling Fall Classic.