Although all the teams in baseball's postseason are from big media markets, declining ticket revenues will hurt their bottom lines
1. MLB Playoff Races Heat Up
If Major League Baseball brass could have scripted the first and second acts of this year's MLB postseason, would they have written the screenplay any differently than the way the games have unfolded?
The New York Yankees advance to the ALCS for the first time since 2004, facing the sentimental favorite Los Angeles Angels, playing in honor of fallen teammate Nick Adenhart. The Philadelphia Phillies are attempting to become the first repeat world champions since the Yankees in 2000, and the first team from the National League to do so since the Pete Rose-led Cincinnati Reds in 1976. That means the country's two biggest media markets, New York and Los Angeles, are still in the mix, along with Philadelphia and Denver, both of which are in the top 10. And ratings are holding steady.
The three Divisional Series games that aired on TBS last Thursday averaged a 3.5 rating, up 20.7% from the second day of the postseason in 2008. The Rockies-Phillies Game Two earned a 15.2 local rating in the Philly market and a 9.2 rating in the snowy Mile High City. The Cardinals-Dodgers Game Two delivered a 6.5 rating in L.A. and a huge 18.3 rating in St. Louis. And the day's final match up, Red Sox-Angels Game One, delivered an 8.0 rating in L.A./Orange County and a 13.2 rating in Boston.
It's clear that more fans are staying home to watch the contests, a trend that applies to all pro sports these days. StubHub President Chris Tsakalakis told the Fox Business Channel that so far tickets for MLB playoff games are "down across the board anywhere from 10% to 20% vs. last year."
Fans can find downright bargains in the Los Angeles area, where the average ticket is around $74 for Dodgers games (a 50% drop since 2008) and $94 for Angels games, largely the result of Red Sox Nation snapping up tickets. Look for those numbers to rise when the Yankees come to town this week. Also competing for the consumer dollar in the L.A. area: U2/Black Eyed Peas tickets, going for $185 on average, and $47 tickets for the NHL Kings opener.
In New York data released by that city's Economic Development Corp. indicates that each game the Yankees play at home during the playoffs will be worth approximately $6.7 million to city businesses, including "money spent by visiting fans, players, and media members on hotels, retail, transportation, and dining, assuming that 34,150 people attend the game who don't live in the city." But that's an unlikely assumption in our minds.
2. NFL Owners Meetings Commence
Unlike baseball owners who are headed to the warm clime of the Arizona desert next month, the NFL's 32 owners, general managers, and league executives are taking more of a New England foliage tour as they convene this week in Boston for the league's annual fall meetings. Top of the agenda for owners, of course, is the new collective bargaining agreement and Commissioner Roger Goodell's most recent negotiations with DeMaurice Smith and the NFLPA, including new financial parameters around the league's escalated stadium investments in the absence of public money.
League insiders have also indicated that the meetings will include a vote to approve the Miami Dolphins' recent slate of celebrity minority investors including the Williams sisters, Gloria Estefan, and Marc Anthony, as well as a presentation on enhanced stadium security technologies.
Also attending the Boston meetings is George Martin, the newly elected NFL Alumni Board of Directors executive director. The organization was formed this year by the merger of the NFL Alumni Assn. and player advocacy group Fourth & Goal; a spokesperson confirmed that Martin was elected "after a six-person search committee considered more than 140 candidates."
Despite gate revenues down slightly from the 2008 season, NFL Commissioner Goodell told PBS host Charlie Rose last week that the "game of football has never been more popular…when you take all measures—ratings, attendance—you see the fans are more engaged with football than they've ever been." How to keep them engaged and willing to open their wallets is always the undercurrent discussion thread at NFL owners meetings and those of all other pro sports leagues. More from Boston next week.
3. A Silly Walk Spoiled?
The 2008 PGA season unofficially signed off with an American victory in the President's Cup on Sunday. Yet golf's "silly season" has always seemed such a misnomer, since the handful of tournaments between now and January's SBS Championship at Kapalua in Maui help further the game of golf in cities across America and raise millions of dollars for local charities.
The President's Cup, held in San Francisco's Harding Park and pitting an All-Star U.S. team against a squad of non-European internationals, likely marked the last appearance of such top Tour players as Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh until the end of the year, and Tiger Woods won't tee off officially again until his annual foundation tournament in Los Angeles in December. While capacity crowds of over 27,000 spectators a day were announced at the event, TV ratings were low, with only 3.7 million opting to watch golf Saturday afternoon instead of college football and only slightly more on Sunday, across from NFL coverage.
In a week in which IOC members voted to reinstate golf to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, the event does serve to underscore the globalization of golf and provides an attractive end-of-season target for such sponsors as Citigroup (C), which presented "Inside View" segments on the Golf Channel, sponsored Kangaroo TV handsets distributed to spectators for free, and held a pre-event golf clinic with Citi endorsers Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo.
All in all, the PGA Tour averaged a 2.1 rating for 57 weekend telecasts on NBC and CBS this year (excluding the Majors), up 23.5% from 2008, when Woods was largely absent while recuperating from knee surgery. The return of the world's first supposed $1 billion athlete this season bolstered the events in which he played, with those telecasts averaging a 2.7 rating. And with Woods playing in all four events for the first time, the FedEx Cup playoffs averaged a 2.4 rating, up 84.6% from last year.
Looking to next season, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem warns that it's highly unlikely that golf can avoid losing more major corporate sponsors and perhaps tournaments. The tour has roughly a dozen sponsors whose contracts end in 2010. The PGA St. Jude's Classic in Memphis is the only 2010 event without a title sponsor, and while the tournament is safe next season, its long-term sustainability is dependent on finding one. (The tournament was left without a sponsor when Stanford Financial was accused of fraud.)
4. Media Pro Sports Owners
Even though Rush Limbaugh's bid to become a minority owner of the Los Angeles Rams failed, his move ignited a philosophical debate: Can news entities remain impartial if they own a pro sports franchise? These five companies have faced that exact challenge:
5. Walt Disney. Disney (DIS) was the original founder of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1993 and owned the Los Angeles Angels from 1999-2003. Other Disney assets include ABC and ESPN.
4. Turner (Ted Turner). In 1976, Turner bought the Atlanta Braves partially to provide programming for WTBS, the precursor to cable channel TBS. Time Warner (TWX) inherited the Braves after buying TBS in 1996, and sold the team to current owner Liberty Media in 2007.
3. Tribune. With the pending sale to Tom Ricketts, Tribune's 28-year stewardship of the Cubs is coming to an end. In addition to the Cubs, the multimedia corporation also owns the WGN TV network and a handful of nationally recognized newspapers.
2. New York Times. New York Times (NYT) holds a 17.5% stake in New England Sports Ventures, the company John Henry founded when he bought the Boston Red Sox. It doesn't help that the Times' home market is full of Yankees fans.
1. News Corp. (Rupert Murdoch). Murdoch's News Corp. (NEWS) bought the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1998 and held the team through 2004. Through its subsidiary, the Fox Network, News Corp. also held broadcast rights to Major League Baseball.