- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002

The 2002 World Series went the full seven games, featured four one-run contests, several dramatic comebacks, the best active player in baseball, plenty of offensive firepower and all the drama one could want.

All it didn't have was a mass audience east of the Mississippi River.

The Anaheim-San Francisco clash, won by the Angeles in seven taut games, will go down in history as the lowest rated World Series ever. The average rating of 11.9 trails the previous low, the 2000 Series between the New York Yankees and Mets, by 4 percent.

Each ratings point represents about 1.07 million U.S. households with television.

Most industry observers and even some MLB executives predicted this year's series could pose viewership problems because of the all-California matchup, as previous Series tied tightly to one region have usually been ratings disasters. But a nasty combination this year of a lack of national popularity for the Angels, baseball's eroding power to create mass viewership, and tough competition from popular programs such as HBO's "The Sopranos" proved even more potent than originally thought.

"While the viewership was not as high as we had hoped, the fact is that Fox won six of the seven nights World Series games were played, won the week in households and adults 18-49, and will finish ahead of our business forecast," said Ed Goren, Fox Sports president.

Because of annual changes in the value of a ratings point, average viewership for this year's World Series actually beat that for the 2000 Series. But when considering the Yankees trounced the Mets in five games in 2000, and this year's tilt was longer and far more dramatic, the results still represent a significant embarrassment for both Fox and Major League Baseball.

Over the weekend, Fox Sports chairman David Hill went so far as to say "baseball's got to be concerned about its future," and partly blamed the sport's tense labor rancor this season for the Series ratings falloff. Playoff ratings through the first two rounds this year had shown improvement compared to a year ago.

Predictably, the bulk of the Series' 24 percent drop off from last season eminated from the East Coast. This year's World Series drew 35 percent fewer viewers in the Eastern time zone, a crucial and damaging figure since that region composes 48 percent of all TV households in the country.

In Washington, local fans overwhelmingly preferred the Redskins game against Indianapolis, airing on ESPN and WJLA-TV (Channel 7) at the same time as Game7 of the Series Sunday night. The football game drew an average audience of more than 579,000 households in the Washington area, while the baseball game drew an average of 245,000 households.

Fox's ratings actually improved a bit each game after 11p.m., contradicting a popular and widespread notion that the late game times were damaging the viewership. But network officials said the traditional schedule of starting and finishing the World Series on a weekend, and thus competing with both college and pro football, does present a problem.

"There will be some conversations about starting midweek," said Lou D'Ermilio, Fox Sports spokesman. "There are a lot of scheduling issues for both sides, so nothing is certain. Starting midweek would definitely help us with a series longer than four games. But you obviously don't know going in whether it will go that long."

MLB spokesman Rich Levin also said a potential schedule change for the Series will be considered during the offseason.

"We'll be talking about that. Now that we have labor out of the way, all our focus can go to the game, so this will be one issue. The pace of play will be another," Levin said. "But this all may be a good thing in the long run. We had two new teams burst onto the national scene, so ultimately, it may be helpful."

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