Cables Baseball Ratings Fall Off

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Ratings for Fox Sports Net and ESPN's regular-season Major League Baseball coverage failed to hit a home run, as performances fell short of last year's numbers.

ESPN, in the first year of a six-year, $800 million regular-season baseball deal, generated a 1.26 rating for its baseball coverage, down 16 percent from last year's 1.50 rating, network senior vice president of programming John Wildhack said.

ESPN2's ratings were also down slightly from last year. But that network offered more than four times as many games this year compared to 1999.

Wildhack pointed to the lack of a record-breaking home-run race, as was the case in 1999, and a more competitive marketplace, which included the popular broadcast-network series
Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?

on ABC and
Survivor

on CBS, as well as the Summer Olympics on NBC, for the drop in ratings.

"We didn't have [St. Louis Cardinals star and home run record holder] Mark McGwire for a significant portion of the year [due to injury]," he said. "We also had several rainouts during our
Sunday Night Baseball

telecasts."

Wildhack did say that ratings jumped 8 percent among the advertiser-coveted demographic of men 18 to 32, which bodes well for both the network and the sport's future.

"We were pleased with what we did," Wildhack said. "Our job was to serve the baseball fan and, given the competitive marketplace we faced, I think we did that well."

Meanwhile, Fox Sports Net's ratings for its Thursday-night national telecasts were down 13 percent, falling from a 0.88 last year to 0.76 in 2000.

Regional-sports networks' local-team coverage fared much better, averaging a cumulative 3.1 rating, which matched last year's performance.

"We had some very good local stories among the regional networks," said Fox Sports Net director of media relations Tom Chiapetta.

FX's Saturday night telecasts averaged a 0.44 rating, down 12 percent from last year's 0.50.

FX officials said blackout rules that barred the network from telecasting games into the home markets of the teams involved were a drag on the ratings. The network is hopeful, though, that Fox Broadcasting Co.'s recently announced six-year, $2.5 billion baseball rights deal will not only relax the blackout rules, but also provide some post-season games.

In the deal, Fox acquired ESPN's post-season rights for divisional playoff games. It remains unclear whether those games would appear on FX, Fox Sports Net or Fox Family Channel, or be sold to a third-party cable network.

ESPN said last week that it's eight post-season division playoff games averaged a 2.94 rating, down 16 percent from last year's 3.51 over seven games.

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