- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

California dreaming or the nightmare of 2000 revisited?
That's the question Fox Sports, baseball's postseason TV rights holder, faces with the unexpected Anaheim-San Francisco matchup in the World Series. Network executives insist the confrontation between the Cinderella Angels and Barry Bonds-led Giants is more than enough to captivate the nation, and playoff viewership being up 7 percent to date over last year supports that belief.
But the TV history of World Series matchups between teams from one coast is not stellar, leaving a cautionary tale for a network that lost nearly $1billion on sports last year.
The Subway Series between the New York Yankees and Mets two years ago produced easily the lowest World Series ratings ever despite a mountain of hype and historical ties to baseball's supposed heyday of the 1950s. All-California matchups in 1989 and 1974 remain two of the 10 lowest-watched Series ever, with the 1989 battle between San Francisco and Oakland the fifth worst on record. Only the 1988 Series between Oakland and Los Angeles, fueled by the heroics of Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson, represents a strong performing matchup tied to one coastal state.
The ratings watch this year is particularly important because the network is eager to show both advertisers and shareholders of Fox parent News Corp. that baseball is on an extended upswing and big-time sports remains a potent tool to fight through the ongoing economic recession.
"The marketplace for all of televised sports has really picked up this year. And we've been very pleased with what we've seen with baseball this year," said Ed Goren, Fox Sports president. "The thing we don't have any control over is [League Championship Series] that last only five games. We will roll the dice again with the World Series and hope for a long Series. Our ad slots are essentially sold out through Game5, and we've seen more interest in Games6 and 7 this year than in several years."
The increase in this year's playoff ratings so far is impressive because it stems from a variety of demographic groups, including advertiser-coveted males aged 18-34 and teens. But the overall increase still owes to a successful Division Series round. Average viewership for just the LCS fell 7 percent from last year.
"There's an opportunity for another increase, but the single coast situation is a factor working against [Fox]," said Stacey Lynn Koerner, senior vice president and director of broadcast research for Initiative Media. "This Series is challenged in the same way all single coast matchups, regardless of sport, are challenged."
Goren yesterday refused to guarantee a ratings increase over the previous year, as he successfully did last year. That is due in part to a 2001 World Series that featured three walkoff victories, including Arizona's Game 7 clincher.
"What I will guarantee is that this series will absolutely outrate the Los Angeles-New York [area] matchup in the NBA Finals," Goren said. "Baseball, I think, is in fine shape."
The 2002 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and New Jersey Nets posted an average draw of 15.7million viewers, a level well below that of any World Series.
Game4 of this year's World Series likely will receive a boost in viewership from the unveiling of the winner of baseball's Memorable Moments campaign. In a joint promotion by Major League Baseball and MasterCard, fans were asked to select the game's most memorable moment among 30 finalists. Before the postseason began, Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive games streak held a slight lead over Hank Aaron setting the all-time home run record for first place.


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