Will News Corp. strike out with World Series ratings?

Advertisers are hoping the games between the Giants and Tigers will hold fans' interest.

By Jonathan Berr Oct 25, 2012 12:32PM
Men watching television, holding beers copyright Ghislain and Marie David de Lossy, Cultura, Getty ImagesWhen the New York Yankees fizzled in baseball's postseason, probably few people were more disappointed than executives at News Corp.'s (NWS) Fox network. For them, it meant one of the few baseball teams with a national fan base wouldn't be in the World Series. 

Some advertisers are now fretting that the contest between the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers, the sixth- and 11th-largest media markets, may rank as the lowest rated in history, according to Reuters.

"This is not necessarily a marquee match-up," said Brad Adgate, an analyst with Horizon Media. "The ratings could vary depending on how exciting the games are."

Indeed, last year's contest between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers went to seven games. During the final contest, which the Cardinals won, more than 25 million viewers tuned in, the most since Game 4 of the 2004 World Series, in which the Boston Red Sox won their first series in 86 years. During the 1970s and early 1980s, more than 40 million viewers tuned in to the World Series.

Game 1 of this year's contest averaged 11.8 million, down 1 million from 2011.  The network said the game "gave FOX its best night in prime among the metered markets since the "American Ido'l Finale in May. ABC's "Modern Family" attracted 12.5 million viewers.  It's difficult to make generalizations based on 1 game. The 2008 World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays was the least watched, averaging 13.6 million viewers because it was interrupted by inclement weather, according to Nielsen.

Rupert Murdoch's media empire has made a multibillion-dollar bet on sports. News Corp., along with Disney's (DIS) ESPN and Time Warner (TWX), recently spent $12.4 billion on the broadcast rights for Major League Baseball from 2014 to 2021. In addition, News Corp., CBS (CBS) and Comcast's (CMCSA) NBC struck a $28 billion deal with the NFL last year.

Fox is probably getting about $425,000 for a 30-second spot during the game, which would net the networks about $30 million in ad revenue per game, according to Nielsen estimates. If the World Series tanks in the ratings, this may present problems for News Corp. Most television commercial time is sold in advance and is priced on the audience it expects to attract. If those guarantees are not met, advertisers could demand free commercial time on other Fox sports programs.

Jonathan Berr is long CBS. Follow him on Twitter@jdberr. The story has been updated to add TV ratings data.


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