News Corp.’s Fox Sports is less concerned with who’s playing in the World Series than how many games they play.
There hasn’t been a seven-game World Series in nine seasons. Since 1995, four-game sweeps have been the most common outcome of baseball’s championship, which starts tonight in St. Louis.
For Fox, that’s more significant than the limited national appeal of the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals, media researcher Brad Adgate said. The Rangers and Cardinals ranked in a Harris poll this year as the eighth and ninth most popular Major League Baseball teams -- the New York Yankees topped the list, followed by the Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs.
Fox stands to make about $35 million in advertising for each game over the minimum four, according to Adgate, research director at New York-based Horizon Media. He said a longer series would make up in revenue and lost sales for what some sports marketers say may be one to rival the least-watched ever.
“Philadelphia and Tampa Bay drew 13.6 million viewers in 2008, and I think this series could be along those lines unless the games are really exciting and it goes to six or seven games,” Adgate said in a telephone interview. “The length of the series is so important because more games mean more advertising units sold.”
Dallas is the fifth-largest U.S. media market and St. Louis is No. 21, according to Adgate. He said losing out on two major-market teams cost baseball half of its World Series viewership, as a matchup between the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers would average around 25 million viewers.
The Yankees, in the No. 1 market, were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, while the Dodgers, in the No. 2 market, failed to make the postseason.
Fox Sports Media Group Vice Chairman Ed Goren said storylines, compelling games and series length are as important to the network as the market size or national following of the participants. He declined to comment on the projected financial and ratings boost that the network would receive with different teams or a seven-game series.
“Sure, you’re going to get a higher rating with the New York Yankees in the World Series, but that doesn’t mean you’re walking away saying you won’t generate any business -- we will,” Goren said in a telephone interview.
This is the first World Series in which the parent company of both teams’ regional sports networks is airing the games. News Corp. owns Fox Sports Southwest, which carries Rangers games during the regular season, and Fox Sports Midwest, the television home of the Cardinals.
Those regional sports networks benefit from a World Series run because the postseason affords them the opportunity for more commercial time on pre- and post-game shows, according to Steve Raab, president of SNY, which shows the New York Mets. The biggest financial benefit for the regional networks will come after the World Series, when advertisers purchase for the following year at a raised rate.
“Your greatest benefit is the season you just had, culminating in a World Series appearance and what that did for your ratings,” Raab said.
If the Mets were to make a World Series, Raab said, SNY’s playoff programming would generate an additional 5 percent of the network’s baseball revenue, not including the boost in ad sales for the following year. He declined to give specific numbers.
A 30-second commercial on this World Series sold for about $500,000, Adgate said. With roughly 70 spots per game -- even more for extra innings or games with mid-inning pitching changes -- that’s $35 million in sales for Fox each night, he said. A 30-second spot on the Super Bowl, the National Football League championship game that this year produced the most-watched show in U.S. television history, goes for about $3.5 million.
History doesn’t bode well for a long series. Baseball hasn’t had a seven-game World Series since 2002, when the Anaheim Angels beat the San Francisco Giants. Two series since have gone to six games, three to five and three to the minimum four.
The Rangers and Cardinals have met just once, a three-game interleague series in Texas during the 2004 season.
“Fox will do fine as long as it’s not four games and out,” said Bill Carroll, director of programming for the New York-based Katz Television Group. “When it crosses the six-game threshold, that’s when interest really increases and there’s more opportunity to run advertisements.”
Television ratings for the National League Championship Series on TBS between the Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers were 43 percent lower than the network’s ratings for last year’s American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Rangers. Carroll said he would recommend World Series advertising to clients regardless of which teams participated because baseball delivers a desired demographic.
“Advertisers looking to reach a specific male audience are going to look at event sports as a specific opportunity,” Carroll said.
The Rangers are the first AL team in 10 years to reach consecutive World Series and have built on the national exposure, Goren said. The Cardinals are led by three-time NL Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols and have generated increased interest since qualifying for the playoffs on the season’s final day.
Goren has another reason for optimism: Cardinals manager Tony La Russa made 12 mid-inning NLCS pitching changes, which the TV executive sees as a commercial break.
“And that starts the cash register,” Goren said.