Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Giants in World Series, Viewers or Not

The San Francisco Giants are in the 'ship for the first time since 2002, and everybody up here in the Bay Area has contracted World Series fever. The fever manifests itself as an obsession with black and orange, which are also Halloween colors, a fine coincidence. Tickets for the series are commanding recession-defying prices: about half the seats at AT&T Park are controlled by ticket brokers (i.e. scalpers) and the prices start at about $800 for SRO. That's standing room only, nearly a thou for just making a turnstile crank around once.

The Giants (who trounced the Northeast powerhouse Phillies for the NL pennant) are playing the Texas Rangers (who creamed the Northeast powerhouse Yankees for the AL crown): neither of these franchises have ever won the series in their current home towns, and the Rangers have never been there at all. By all indications, this matchup will likely make for a very memorable championship.

The whole thing is being carried by FOX, as they usually do. So when a team from the #7 TV market faces off with the team from the #12 TV market, what do the FOX execs expect? A ratings disaster, of course. More wailing: why, oh why, can't it be the Yankees, Red Sox, the White Sox or even the Dodgers? Even the recently trounced Phillies (from TV market #4) would have done it!

Oh, for God's sake. Jeff Sullivan of SBNation.com said it best:
Ratings. Everywhere, people are talking about ratings. The Yankees versus the Phillies? That would get good ratings. The Rangers versus the Giants? That won't get good ratings. At least, not as good as the Yankees versus the Phillies. I don't know from whence all this sudden altruistic concern for the well-being of the FOX broadcasting company has come, but people are making a big deal out of this. They think that everyone at FOX headquarters must be miserable, and they're hoping against hope that millions of viewers on the fence will end up tuning in.
(He goes with some fine suggestions as to how Fox can boost ratings, such as put Jane Lynch in it or mislabel the series as an NFL game on on-screen guides.)

Great sporting events will attract great ratings. The World Cup broadcasts did very, very well and featured nothing even remotely resembling home teams. The 1991 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves was highly viewed, because it was a seven-game nail-biter. And the Giants-Rangers series is going to be unique: I for one am not going to worry about how FOX is going to fare. They'll do fine.

And how does all this add up against the NFL, that dreadnought of American sports broadcasting, capable of flattening anything in it's way? The hugeness of the NFL's ratings compared to MLB has been a long-running trope. It's also a semi-invalid comparison. A Major League Baseball team plays over 160 games a year: a pro football team, around sixteen games. This becomes simple viewership math: all other things being equal, you get more people watching something if that something happens less often. This also gives baseball a stronger regional loyalty, and thus less stellar national ratings, than football (but allows for huge annual attendance totals, like the three million plus for the Giants: Football teams have only 8 or so home games, which the owners compensate for with jacked-up seat prices and TV revenue sharing).

There is also a qualitative difference between the pastimes: as FOXSports commentator Ken Rosenthal points out, baseball is "devoid of two NFL staples - violence and gambling." Right on.

So in summary, let me leave you with this food for thought: GO GIANTS! FEAR THE BEARD!


  1. You forgot one other thing that Fox is doing to RUIN this series. Those two dumbass announcers, Buck and McCarver. They have single handedly ruined the playoffs. From their BORING tone to their pathetic, laughable, and downright MORONIC comments on air. They know nothing about baseball and add no excitement. Fox is a piece of shit network for allowing these two on the air.

  2. Gotta admit that's true. National announcers like them are completely flavorless. I watched the playoffs with the sound off and KNBR radio on. Hate to stick with Fox for the Series, but take my word for it: the surround sound is awesome.

    Giants win Game 1, 7-11. How lucky is that? That's my birthday, might I add. The FOX guys were sure it was going to a low-scoring pitching duel. At the end of the game Joe Buck said, "You know what? Don't listen to us. We don't know anything." Ah, the truth comes out.