Pinstripe Power


The core four. One for the thumb. A win for The Boss.

The phrases associated with five-time World Series champion New York Yankees Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada, plus principle owner George Steinbrenner, can give way to the numbers 27, $207 million and 19.4 million, as in the franchise’s record number of North American pro sports titles, its payroll for the just completed campaign and the average viewers for Fox’s coverage of the 105th Fall Classic.

As expected, Fox scored with its six-game presentation of the Yankees-Philadelphia Phillies battle, recording a major jump from last year’s 13.6 million audience average for Philadephia’s five-game triumph over the Tampa Bay Rays, in the least-watched World Series.

Benefiting from Nielsen markets No. 1 (the Big Apple averaged a 30.4 rating/45 share for the Series) and No. 4 (Philadelphia notched a 41.0/57), the 2009 World Series averaged an 11.7 rating, a 39% advance from last year’s 8.4, marking the biggest single-year increase in the history of the event.

Moreover, it was the highest-rated and most-watched World Series since 2004, when Red Sox nation ended its 86-year Curse of the Bambino vigil with Boston’s four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, which yielded a 15.8 rating and averaged 25.4 million viewers.

Certainly, Fox, MLB and the club’s fans welcomed the Bronx Bombers return to the Fall Classic. Since Joe Buck and Tim McCarver became postseason fixtures in our living rooms in 1996 (NBC televised Florida’s seven-game win over Cleveland in 2007 and New York’s sweep of the Atlanta Braves in 1999, which averaged 24.8 million and 23.7 million viewers, respectively), Fox has averaged 3 million more watchers per World Series game when the Yankees are in the hunt, than when Jeter and Co. have been shutout of the possibility of riding floats up the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan.

Over six World Series involving the Yankees on Fox since 1996 (25.2 million in 1996; 20.3 million in 1998; 18.1 million in 2000; 24.5 million in 2001; 20.1 million in 2003; and 19.4 million this year), the network averaged almost 21.3 million viewers, versus 18.1 million without (19.3 million in 2002; 25.4 million in 2004; 17.2 million in 2005; 15.8 million in 2006; 17.1 million in 2007; and 13.6 million in 2008).

Did Fox take a hit between 2004-08 because three of the five Series were sweeps and two only went five, marking the only span in MLB history where the World Series didn’t extend to at least a sixth game? Sure. Would a seven-game, Yanks-Phils rematch in 2010 push Fox past the 20 million viewer  mark on average? Likely.

But the Nielsen World Series Holy Grail remains the more-than-a-century-long melodrama known as the Chicago Cub. The team’s new owner, the Ricketts family, and Sweet Lou want to make Tinkers, Evans to Chance, the billy goat curse and Steve Bartman familiar talking points next fall. Yes, Fox would enjoy Cubs-Yanks or Cubs-Bosox immensely, too.

But before looking too far ahead or getting lodged too deeply in nostalgia for the erstwhile national pastime, one only needs to look at pro pigskin ratings to realize just how much the NFL is the top national TV sport.  Since Super Bowl XLIII, this season’s NFL telecasts have accounted for 12 of the top 15 sports telecasts, with only World Series Game 4 (22.8 million), Game 6 (22.3 million) and Game 1 (19.5 million) breaking that stronghold at spots No. 7, 8 and 14, respectively.