- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Despite an unprecedented marketing push and the addition of home-field advantage in the World Series as a prize to the winning league, baseball’s All-Star Game failed to improve its TV ratings from last year’s record low marks.

Tuesday night’s game garnered a 9.5 rating and a 17 share, identical to last year’s game in Milwaukee that ended in a 7-7 tie. Each ratings point represents about 1.07 million U.S. homes with TV, while the share denotes the percentage of televisions in use tuned to a particular program.

Before the game, Fox Sports president Ed Goren predicted a minimum 10 percent increase over last year’s rating if the game was close. On the field, Goren and the rest of the country received all that and more as the American League rallied from a four-run deficit to win 7-6.

But the numbers still did not materialize, as the average U.S. viewership of 13.8 million people trailed last year’s game by 6 percent.

“[Goren] was being overly optimistic,” said Bill Carroll, vice president and director of programming for Katz Television Group, a New York industry consulting firm. “Cooler heads and a more objective analysis would have said that after last year’s debacle, and in today’s ever-fracturing TV universe, pulling even would have been a significant achievement, which is what they got.”

Ratings for Monday’s Home Run Derby, shown on ESPN, fared much worse, plunging 29 percent from an average viewership of 5.27million to 3.76million.

Yesterday officials of both Major League Baseball and Fox sought to put a healthier and slightly revisionist spin on the All-Star Game numbers. Even with the stagnating ratings, the event outdrew June’s NBA Finals for the first time in nine years, nearly doubled the average major network rating in prime time this summer and represented the highest-rated sports event of any type since the NCAA basketball championship game in March.

“It appears the format changes implemented by MLB and the players contributed to a ratings improvement as the game progressed, which is in vast contrast to the typical All-Star Game trend,” Goren said yesterday.

Some Fox officials also said that restoring viewer confidence in the All-Star Game may be a multi-year process. Much of the industry and fan conversation still referred to last year’s problems at Miller Park. Next year, when the game is at Houston’s Minute Maid Park, the most immediate recollection will be the eighth-inning home run Tuesday night by Texas third baseman Hank Blalock that pushed the AL to victory.

Even without improved TV numbers, MLB also restored some needed goodwill toward the All-Star Game. After last year’s mess in Milwaukee, which commissioner Bud Selig called “one of the saddest, most lonely nights of my life,” MLB executives worked to restore any kind of energy and buzz toward the All-Star Game. And even if fans watching on TV did not respond entirely, Corporate America did, investing tens of millions of dollars in the event.

Most industry executives also lavished praise for the game itself, which appeared to be more spirited and focused on baseball strategy than other Midsummer Classics, and even featured a manager argument and attempted stolen base.

“The format change … accomplished exactly what the commissioner intended, which was to create a more exciting and engaging game,” said MLB president Bob DuPuy.


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