Baseball fans may choose to argue the relative thrills of the
recent World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers.
What can't be argued are the numbers for the telecasts on Fox: This year's Fall
Classic proved to be the least viewed World Series in history, according to
Nielsen data, averaging 12.7 million viewers per game. But despite the ratings,
Fox execs strongly believe the Series is still a highly valuable marketing
event for advertisers.
Mike Mulvihill, senior VP of programming and research, Fox
Sports Media Group, says Fox's message to advertisers is that despite the drop,
the World Series will continue to be a top 10 show among viewers and do even
better among adults 18-49 and among men 18-49.
"If you look at the World Series ratings, and compared them
to all primetime programming season to date, it would rank sixth among adults
18-49 and second among men 18-49," he says. "There is still a lot of value
there even though viewership is not what it was 30 or 40 years ago."
That era, says Mulvihill, is hard to compare to TV's current
viewing realities. Viewership figures were higher for World Series in the 1970s
and â€˜80s in large part because there were only three broadcast networks and little
or no cable to compete with; it was a time when each network show did a rating
of 30 or higher.
"Advertisers can only buy what's available right now," Mulvihill
says. "When Monday Night Football was
being criticized for declining viewership on ABC 10 years ago, it was ranked
higher among the primetime shows then than it was in its glory years in the
1970s and 1980s. In 1980, the highest-rated show on television was Dallas with more than a 30
household rating. Today the highest-rated TV show has a household rating of 12.
Even MNF on ESPN right now is ranked
higher compared to today's shows than MNF
was compared to other primetime shows in the 1970s and 80s."
But was this year's four-game World Series profitable for
Fox? While neither Mulvihill nor anyone else from Fox would discuss it, one
source familiar with TV sports rights deals said the World Series can't be
looked at in a vacuum.
"There's no way to separate the World Series from the entire
MLB package," the source said. "This year, there was a seven-game League
Championship Series on Fox so that helps to offset the four-game World Series a
bit. Floater ads can be squeezed into those games when there are a lot of
pitching changes. If Fox gets $40 million in ad revenue from its regular season
MLB games and the All-Star telecast, another $105 million from the seven game
LCS, $140 million from four World Series games, that totals about $285 million.
If you deduct $15 million for production costs and talent salaries, that brings
net revenue to about $270 million. The rights fee this year is about $255
million per year. So Fox could have made a profit on its package or be flat,
even without any of the final three World Series games being played."
That type of math, however, is not going to help Fox in its
new MLB deal going forward: The network will be paying about $500 million per
year over eight years beginning with the 2014 season. But Fox does get two
Divisional playoff games under the new deal and also gets to run a 30-minute
MLB-produced sports show. The new deal also includes digital "TV Everywhere"
rights to stream televised games and other MLB-related programming online and
through mobile devices. So while the days of drawing 30 million viewers to a
televised World Series game may be long gone, new opportunities via other
platforms could be monetized by Fox down the road.
While this season's World Series was the least viewed, what
were the most-watched World Series and individual Series games dating back to
those "glory days" of the 1970s and â€˜80s?
According to Nielsen data compiled by Brad Adgate, senior VP
of research at Horizon Media, and dating back 45 years to the 1968 season, the
most-watched Series was in 1978 between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New
York Yankees, when an average of 44.2 million viewers watched each contest of
that six-game series. That series on NBC averaged a 32.8 household rating and a
56 audience share and it included two weekend day games that averaged about 42.5
million viewers. Game 6, which proved to be the final game, aired on a Tuesday
night and drew 50.6 million viewers.
The second most-watched World Series was in 1980, between the
Philadelphia Phillies and the Kansas City Royals. That six-game series on NBC
averaged 42.3 million viewers.
Placing third was the 1981 series, also between the Dodgers and
the Yankees; the six games averaged 41.3 million viewers on ABC.
Fourth most came in 1979 when the Pittsburgh Pirates vs. the
Baltimore Orioles averaged 37.9 million on ABC in a seven-game series.
And rounding out the top 5 World Series based on average
viewers per game was the 1982 Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and
Milwaukee Brewers on NBC. That seven-game series averaged 38 million viewers.
The most-watched single game of any World Series dating back
to 1968 was the sixth and final game of the 1980 Series between the Phillies
and Royals, which aired on a Tuesday night on NBC and drew 54.8 million viewers.
Placing second was Game 7 in 1975 between the Cincinnati
Reds and Boston Red Sox on NBC, which aired on a Wednesday night. That game
drew 51.5 million.
Game 6 of the 1978 Series between the Dodgers and Yanks,
mentioned above, placed third. In fourth was Game 7 in 1991 between the
Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves on CBS. That Sunday night game drew 50.3
And rounding out the top 5 most-watched World Series games
was Game 7 of the 1979 Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Baltimore
Orioles on ABC. That game on a Wednesday night drew 49.8 million.
Adgate points out that viewership of the World Series peaked
during the 1970s and early â€˜80s when cable was in its infancy, and the Big
Three broadcast networks dominated primetime viewing. "Since then, [World
Series] ratings have generally been trending downward," Adgate says.
Adgate also notes that Nielsen started measuring DVR
playback and live-plus-same-day viewing in 2006, and that audience stream is
included in the numbers, not that it is of much significance for important
sporting events, which tend to be viewed live.
This year's World Series unseated the previous
lowest-viewing champ: the 2009 World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and
the Tampa Bay Rays, also on Fox; that series averaged 13.6 million viewers per
game. Interestingly, the second-lowest previous World Series in viewership was
in 2010 when the San Francisco Giants played the Texas Rangers; the Giants may
have won two of the last three baseball championships, but they've also scored
two of the three lowest World Series viewing totals.
The most-watched World Series since 2000 was the 2004 Classic
between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals that averaged 25.3
million viewers and only went four games-at least in part disproving the theory
that a series needs to go a full seven games to grow the audience. If that year's
series had gone seven games, the audience would have grown larger with each
game; however, that 2004 series in four games still averaged more than any
other since 2000, including three Series that went seven games and two that
Some other interesting World Series data gathered by Adgate
shows that that a 30-second commercial in that highly-rated 1978 series between
the Dodgers and Yankees sold for about $85,000 to reach 44.2 million viewers,
according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus data. A 30-second spot in the 2011 Series
cost about $421,000 to reach 16.6 million viewers.
The World Series viewer has also aged up a bit since 2000.
The median age of a World Series viewer in 2000 was 45.9 and by 2011 it was