October 23, 2013

SKEDBALL: World Series Ratings

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Written by: Mitch Metcalf
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The World Series begins tonight at historic Fenway Park, as the St Louis Cardinals take on the Boston Red Sox in a re-match of the 2004 Series.  Ratings for the World Series are very erratic.  Since 2003 (the last 10 Series), Game 1 has averaged a 5.1 adult 18-49 rating, with a high of 8.0 in 2004 for this same match-up to a low of 3.6 in 2006 (St Louis-Detroit) and 2012 (San Francisco-Detroit).  FOX must be ecstatic that the Red Sox and not the Tigers are the American League champions.  It’s not just that Boston is a larger TV market than Detroit (both are very large with Boston ranked #7 with 2.1% of the country in the market, while Detroit is #11 with 1.6%).  It’s more about the mystique of the teams involved and the national following of those who love and hate the team.  The Tigers are an original American League franchise, but they just don’t have the history or elicit the same passion as do the Yankees and Red Sox and maybe someday the Dodgers if they can make it back after a 25-year hiatus from the stress of world championship.  Also, if it were all about market size, the Texas Rangers would be an attractive team for the postseason (Dallas is the #5 market in the country with 2.3% of the US and growing).  But as an expansion team they have not had a century or more to build a following more regionally and generationally.

Below are the ratings for Game 1 since 2001.  Let’s face it, the ratings before 2000 that are just not relevant anymore: between 1986 and 1993 (from the introduction of the Nielsen PeopleMeter ratings system to just before the 1994 strike), Game 1 averaged a 10.1 rating with adults 18-49.  In the steroid era from 1995-2002, Game 1 averaged a 7.1 rating.  So let’s focus on more recent history.  Clearly when the Yankees or Boston are involved, the Series bubbles to the top of the ratings.  Other teams, including the Cardinals or Phillies without the Yankees or Red Sox, generate much less interest and drive smaller audiences.

MLB World Series Ratings (18-49)
Game 1 AL NL
2003 6.0 NY Yankees Florida
2004 8.0 Boston St Louis
2005 4.6 Chicago Sox Houston
2006 3.6 Detroit St Louis
2007 5.8 Boston Colorado
2008 4.8 Tampa Bay Philadelphia
2009 6.3 NY Yankees Philadelphia
2010 4.7 Texas San Francisco
2011 4.2 Texas St Louis
2013 3.6 Detroit San Francisco

Beyond the teams themselves and their marquee value, the competitiveness of the match-up is critically important.  If fans and bookmakers expect a close series a buzz is created, and if a series actually goes long (6 or 7 games) the ratings can really build momentum.  Looking ahead to this Series, recent odds from Las Vegas show a slight preference for Boston winning but a clear belief the series will be long.  For convenience the odds below of the discrete outcomes of the World Series have been converted to percentages that represent the chances of each event happening.  The good news for FOX is that the percentages are clustered closer to the center of the continuum below (a close series) rather than toward either extreme (a quick, boring blowout).  The odds below favor Boston winning (a 55% chance in 4, 5, 6 or 7 games for Boston versus a 45% for the Cardinals).  But the 6 or 7-game outcomes (either Boston or St Louis winning) totals a strong 62%, versus 38% for a 4 or 5 game short series by either side.  The odds don’t guarantee anything, but they reflect a widely held sentiment that this is going to be a tight series.

Possible World Series 2013 Outcomes
STL in 4 STL in 5 STL in 6 STL in 7 BOS in 7 BOS in 6 BOS in 5 BOS in 4
Recent LV Odds 12:1 6:1 5:1 5:1 4:1 7:2 6:1 10:1
Implied Chance 7% 12% 13% 13% 15% 21% 12% 8%

It seems to me that the Series will indeed be very close.  Personally, I am going with Cardinals in 7, but who knows because each game between these two great teams (each with the best record in their league) could be extremely close and hang on a few plays or bad pitches.

In the history of the World Series, a Game 7 happens about 28% of the time, and in the past 10 years, there has only been one Game 7 (in 2011).  We are due, and this could be the year for another one.  Play ball.

About the Author

Mitch Metcalf
MITCH METCALF has been tracking every US film release of over 500 screens (over 2300 movies and counting) since the storied weekend of May 20, 1994, when Maverick and Beverly Hills Cop 3 inspired countless aficionados to devote their lives to the art of cinema. Prior to that, he studied Politics and Economics at Princeton in order to prepare for his dream of working in television. He has been Head of West Coast Research at ABC, then moved to NBC in 2000 and became Head of Scheduling for 11 years.