Chicago Cubs fans by the thousands have been mobbing the streets around Wrigley Field—and that's during away games. "The city has gone bonkers," says WMAQ-TV President and General Manager Larry Wert.
"This is bigger than the Bears in the Super Bowl, even the six Bulls championships," says WLS-TV Sports Director Mark Giangreco.
It's the same story in Boston, says Don Lowery, of Viacom's WBZ-TV (CBS) and WSBK-TV (UPN). "The Red Sox have been the lead story on the newscasts" since they defeated the Oakland A's in the first round of the playoffs. Nationwide, Fox is enjoying fatter than usual ratings for the playoffs (see story, page 11).
The Florida Marlins and New York Yankees probably have bobbleheads older than their World Series rings, but, for their respective playoff foes, the Cubs and Red Sox, the chance to be playing for it all in October after the better part of a century's worth of disappointment has TV stations in those cities pulling out the stops and putting major mileage on satellite trucks.
The big winners, of course, are the Fox O&Os in Chicago and Boston, which are carrying the network's coverage of the Cubs and Red Sox and reaping the ratings and spot-sales bonanzas.
For Fox's WFLD(TV) Chicago, post-season Cubs means out-of-the-ballpark ratings and shares, the kind of numbers that recall the Bears Super Bowl victory in 1986, when WMAQ-TV got a 63 rating/87 share.
The actual numbers for the first game of the National League Championship Series (NLCS) on WFLD, in which the Cubs lost a heartbreaker to the Marlins in 11 innings on Oct. 7, were 38.6/52, according to the Nielsen overnights. It peaked at a 67 share in the climactic final quarter-hour. Even the Cubs' next-day blowout of their opponent did a 50 share.
"Today's fragmented media world doesn't have 67 shares of anything anymore," notes Wert.
Baseballs and ratings aren't the only things heading skyward.
According to a source, a 30-second ad on WFLD in prime time, which would ordinarily go for $12,000-$20,000 in Chicago, is going for $45,000-$50,000 in the games and could go for $75,000-$100,000 if the Cubs make it to the big dance. Of course, that price can be affected by which teams make it and even which pitcher is on the mound, says a buyer. A rep firm says advertisers have been calling WFLD. "How often does that happen these days?" he asks.
WFLD's gain is the competition's loss. Wert says the games will "definitely take revenue out of the marketplace because it is such a unique and ongoing event."
In Boston, Fox's WFXT(TV) is reaping the major ratings rewards, but it can't talk about them. That's because the station continues to boycott the Nielsen People Meter ratings there while Fox tries to negotiate a new group deal with the ratings service. If it could talk, though, it would be boasting, as is Fox Sports corporate, about the 40.7/57 it garnered for the Sox Game Five clincher over Oakland Oct. 6 or the 40.9/59 it did Oct. 8 for the Sox win in the first game of the American League Championship Series (ALCS) vs. the Yankees.
Fortunately for WFXT, the media buyers subscribe to the ratings, and a source says the ratings blackout hasn't hurt the station at the negotiating table.
In Chicago, no station would appear to have a bigger rooting interest in the Cubs than WGN-TV. Parent Tribune, has owned the team since 1981, and WGN-TV produced 80 regular-season games (with a few aired by WCIU-TV). It can even claim the first World Series broadcast through its radio progenitor, WGN(AM).
The TV station's in-market broadcasts of ESPN's two divisional playoff games delivered ratings home runs. For example, a fairly typical Friday night on WGN-TV averages a hair over a 4 rating. The Oct. 3 Cubs game got a 25.2. Its shares topped out in the 40s.
But that was then. Its rooting interest, at least for high ratings for game telecasts, is dampened somewhat by the fact that WFLD has the rest of the games. "It's like watching your girl go to the prom with someone else," says one WGN-TV staffer.
But WGN-TV isn't sitting in the stands. It is producing a half-hour pregame show before each of the NLCS games, including those in the Marlin's stadium in Miami. Although plans are not set, the station will probably do the same for the World Series if the ball bounces the right way for the Cubs.
ABC-owned WLS-TV is doing its newscasts from the roof of its building, which overlooks Wrigley Field. Its four sports anchors and reporters are inside the stadium, says Giangreco, doing live shots from first and third, "throwing to" live player interviews before and after games. Then there are news reporters outside the stadium doing fan pieces and features. The station is sending two sports anchors, a news reporter, two cameramen and a producer to Florida for away games.
According to WFLD Vice President and News Director Debra Juarez, the station is doing live half-hour pregame shows for both home and away games when there isn't a Bears game or Yankees game leading into or out of a Cubs contest. She sent 16 staffers to Miami for the one show availability there. That, she says, is what it takes to feed the beast, which includes a four-hour morning show, noon and late news.
Viacom's CBS affiliate WBBM-TV is covering the NLCS as a big local news story, sending two reporters, a correspondent, and a tech crew to Miami for the away games, even though it is not planning any pre- or post-game shows.
It's a public-interest story, news story and sports story, says WMAQ-TV's Wert. "We do 30 half-hours of news per week, and there hasn't been a newscast that didn't lead with the Cubs or have Cub news toward the top."
WMAQ-TV sent a four-person crew, two sportscasters and two techies to Atlanta for the Cubs' division series with the Braves and will probably do the same for the championships, perhaps adding another reporter to do human-interest stories.
In Boston, in addition to riding the Fox Sports coverage to stellar ratings, WFXT is producing pregame shows for each of its division series games, including sending a crew of seven to New York for the away games, using co-owned WNYW-TV New York's satellite truck and fiber lines.
While WBZ-TV and WSBK-TV don't have any plans for stand-alone special programming, they have sent two reporters to New York for special reports during the news. If the Sox make the World Series, Lowery says, the station will probably do some pull-out programming, perhaps reprising a weekly magazine show, Red Sox This Week, that aired Sunday nights during the season on WSBK-TV and repeated on WBZ-TV. The only thing that would prevent that is concerns about preempting network schedules so early in the season.