Work in Sports
Is anybody out there?
Subway Series' low ratings part of overall sports trend
NEW YORK (AP) -- Executives at Fox Sports and major league baseball might just be wishing that Tiger Woods could swing a bat.
That's because the world's greatest golfer is about the only athlete these days who can consistently lift a sport's TV ratings above its normal numbers simply by competing.
Then again, maybe "special" sports events are just not as special anymore when it comes to attracting TV viewers. The Subway Series is only the latest example in what is clearly a changing landscape, thanks in part to the proliferation of cable channels.
The trend of sinking ratings hasn't discriminated much by sport or network this year.
NBC's coverage of the Sydney Games drew the lowest ratings for a Summer or Winter Olympics since 1968. The NCAA men's college basketball title game dropped 18 percent from a year ago, which was the previous low since CBS started airing the event in 1982. The All-Star games for the NBA and baseball were the worst-rated ever.
One notable exception is the Super Bowl, which continues to consistently rate above 40.
Through four games, the all-New York World Series was on pace to be the lowest-rated Fall Classic, and by a significant margin. Only about 20 percent of in-use TVs around the country were tuning in to watch one of the most evenly matched series in memory -- the first four games were decided by a grand total of five runs.
The cumulative national rating after Game 4 was a 12.2 (each rating point represents about 1.022 million TV households).
That's 24 percent lower than last year's World Series (on NBC) and 13.5 percent worse than two years ago (on Fox) -- the lowest previous showings for baseball's championship event.
"It is pretty far below average. Usually Game 3 and Game 4 pick up significantly. We're not really seeing that this year," said Stacey Lynn Koerner, VP of broadcast research at advertising agency TN Media. "I think everybody's disappointed. But it's not the only event where this is happening -- we just went through this with the Olympics. We need to find better ways of making these events special again."
While, predictably, New Yorkers have been tuning in to the World Series in droves (generating 25 percent higher ratings in the nation's biggest market than last year), the Mets and Yankees are not pulling in viewers from other large cities.
Of the markets ranked Nos. 2-15, 10 are seeing double-digit percentage losses from the last World Series. Los Angeles, for example, is down 14 percent, Chicago 21 percent.
Advertising buyers said the ratings raise the prospect of Fox having to run extra commercials -- known as make-goods -- to satisfy sponsors who expected to get their messages seen by more viewers.
"To the best of my knowledge, at this point in time, make-goods have not been discussed," Fox Sports Networks vice president Lou D'Ermilio said Thursday.
Of course, despite the drop-off from past seasons, the World Series is still a great marketing tool for Fox.
Among the benefits is getting to give game tickets to actors of the network's programs and then focus cameras on those actors. One example: a day after being broadcast to America in their front-row seats, the stars of Fox's new show "Boston Public" helped generate the network's highest-rated Monday night series premiere ever.
We certainly can expect much more of the same type of promotion during the next six World Series, which Fox owns thanks to last month's $2.5 billion contract with baseball.
Fox, along with the other networks and sports leagues, hopes people will keep tuning in to watch.