After years of seeing MLB’s Division Series come up short in drama and games, TBS almost ran the table this year.
The “very funny” network, with an assist from sister service TNT, got to televise 19 of possible 20 first-round MLB playoff games, highlighted by a trio of one-run Game 5s — only Texas topping Tampa in four prevented a DS Grand Slam, so to speak.
Those tightly contested clinchers helped Turner Sports ring up additional revenues for the “if needed” games, as B&C colleague Jon Lafayette points out in his “Post-season $coring For Turner” blog.
The deciding affairs also helped TBS make up some of the audience shortfall for the DS that started with the rain-splattered suspension of the first-game, match-up of aces between Detroit Tigers’ Justin Verlander and New York’s C.C. Sabathia on Sept. 30 and then having the balance of its Oct. 1-2 lineup run into the teeth of college and pro football telecast last weekend.
Despite a Day Four rally with the Nielsens, Turner ‘s audience was down 25% through its first 10 2011 postseason telecasts. TBS was able to make up much of that viewership ground with the Game 4s and Game 5 that ensued and will no doubt top the 2010 reach numbers when the tallies are finalized.
Indeed, the network scored big with its Game 5 coverage. Nyjer Morgan’s 10th-inning, game-winning single and subsequent profane celebration, which was in earshot of TBS’s on-field mic, capped Milwaukee’s triumph over the Arizona Diamondbacks before 4.6 million viewers on Friday evening. That was followed with Chris Carpenter’s 1-0 gem over former Toronto Blue Jays teammate and buddy Roy Holladay. St. Louis’ upset of the Philadelphia played before a cable NLDS best 8.4 million viewers.
But that telecast trailed the 9.7 million who watched the Tigers hold off the Yankees in Game 5 in The Bronx on Thursday night. That was the largest DS audience mark ever on cable — whose roster over the years has also included playoff telecasts on ESPN, ABC Family and its forbear Fox Family, and FX - and the best for MLB since the Yankees fell to the Angels in the wake of a right-center field collision between Bubba Crosby and Gary Sheffield in Game 5 of the 2005 ALDS, which drew 13.7 million on Fox.
Now, TBS is left without the Phillies – the club that has emerged as a national team and topped all MLB teams on the regional level this season, posting a 9.1 mark in the Philadelphia DMA via Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia — for its exclusive NLDS coverage.
Still, the Cardinals of Pujols, the Big Puma and Professor LaRussa are no slouches. FS Midwest finished second among RSNs with MLB clubs this season, finishing with a 9.0 average inside the Arch area, while the Brew Crew of Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Morgan’s T-Plush alter ego, ranked third with a 7.95 rating on FS Wisconsin. When Arizona tied matters at 2 in the top of the ninth as closer John Axford and first-sacked Fielder collided on a safety squeeze, the nervous meter for TBS execs must have been off the charts.
Executives at Fox, which this year has the ALCS and, of course, the World Series, must already be there. Fox saw the possibility of having the Yankees confront their nemesis the Red Sox and The Nation in the ALCS collapse, alongside Boston’s historic September swoon And amidst a host of missed opportunities against the Tigers, the Bronx Bombers and the No. 1 DMA have also struck out.
Coupled with the result in Citizens Bank Ballpark on Friday night, the potential for a high-profile rematch of the 2009 World Series with the Phils, which averaged 19.4 million viewers over six games, the most since Boston ended the 86-year Curse of the Bambino with its sweep of the Cards in 2004, never got anywhere near the dish.
Instead, it’s the Tigers aiming to wrest the AL crown from the Rangers, and the Brewers and Cards looking to ultimately decide a battle that saw them split 18 regular-season games.
Like the DS round, a pair of extended Championship Series can soothe some of the expected Nielsen losses for TBS, Fox and MLB. In these best-of-seven contests, though, Game 5s won’t be good enough