- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

The Chicago Cubs are gone. And so, too, is the primary fuel behind the remarkable TV ratings registered in baseball’s postseason by Fox Sports.

Fox executives yesterday boldly predicted a healthy ratings increase for the World Series between Florida and the winner of last night’s Boston-New York Yankees Game 7 — not a dangerous step considering last year’s Series between Anaheim and San Francisco posted the event’s worst ratings ever.

But even with Florida’s Cinderella story still unfolding, the network acknowledged that something will be missing without the wildly popular Cubs playing in their first World Series since 1945 and their geographically far-flung fans salivating.

“There’s no question the numbers with the Cubs would have been very impressive,” said Ed Goren, Fox Sports president. “But we’re by no means hanging our heads.”

Added Joe Buck, Fox Sports’ lead baseball announcer: “Anybody who said they wouldn’t want to do a Cubs World Series for the first time in television [history] is lying. Anybody selfishly thinking about their career thinks about doing a Series [at Wrigley Field].”

Wednesday night’s Game7 of the National League Championship Series between Chicago and Florida marked the latest chapter in a ratings run that has seen the dramatic early rounds of the baseball playoffs match and beat the NFL, send rival networks scurrying for prime-time repeats in an open show of surrender and spark new levels of casual fan interest in the sport.

The Marlins-Cubs game, completing a three-game meltdown by Chicago, drew the highest rating for a single league championship series game since 1993, drawing a 16.9 national rating, 27 share and average audience of 26.4 million. The totals are better than 24 of the last 27 World Series games.

Overall, Fox’s postseason average of 14.1million viewers a game through Wednesday is beating last year’s average by a whopping 50 percent.

Last night’s classic, Game7 rematch of Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez was expected to post another huge and perhaps historic ratings number when it is released this afternoon.

“[Fox Sports chairman] David Hill says this is the ultimate reality TV, and he’s absolutely right,” Goren said. “Fox won the week [among network TV ratings], both in households and in all key demographics. That’s the first time that’s ever happened with the LCS round. We’ll win the week this week, and we’ll win the week next week, too. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to deliver your network partners not only a strong promotional platform but a strong ratings lead going into November sweeps.”

Fox executives and broadcasters yesterday went to great pains to credit the Marlins’ remarkable run. Analyst Tim McCarver called their unexpected comeback from a 3-1 deficit in games “one of the great feats in baseball” during his career of more than four decades.

But it was just six years ago, during a Florida-Cleveland World Series, that then-NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer was openly rooting for a four-game sweep so as to resume the network’s normal prime-time schedule as soon as possible. He received the opposite — a taut seven-game Marlins win — and what was then the second-lowest-rated Series ever.

“At this point, all you hope for is volume [of games],” Fox’s Goren said. “I have no doubt we will launch Saturday with more interest than a year ago and that this run will continue, particularly if the Series goes six or seven games.”

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