It's official: the four-game sweep by the Chicago White Sox over the Houston Astros produced the lowest TV ratings in World Series history.
We've heard the reasons. Nobody cares about the White Sox and Astros. The game is too sluggish. It ends too late. The players aren't accessible.
Aren't these factors that occur nearly every season? Not every World Series can feature the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox. which drew 30 percent more viewers. Not every player can be a media darling like Gary Carter. And hasn’t baseball always been slow, with prime time games running into the wee hours of the night?
A common misconception says viewers dwindle as the clock keeps ticking, that most people tune in for the first inning and gradually tune out as the game continues. Not so. According to USA Today, playoff ratings were 31 percent higher than ratings for action prior to 11, a figure that was also reflected on the East Coast.
In general, critics are quick to pick on baseball. They don't understand why the game stubbornly resists change while others have embraced it.
Call me old fashioned, but I blame something else.
I blame Fox.
Fox fancies itself a big three network. It’s not. Of the six broadcast networks, Fox is the best-looking ugly stepchild of the bunch; it’s not a beauty queen like CBS, but it’s not the ugliest ugly duckling, either. That would be UPN.
Unlike NBC, CBS and ABC, networks with more established broadcast affiliates, Fox has never quite caught up with the big three. Since its launch in 1986, the network has provided one less hour of programming to fewer people, while the big three run prime time schedules from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Unless you’re into cartoons, “American Idol,” Paris Hilton, or “House” (I hear good things about “House,” actually), than Fox isn’t for you.
To secure some actual ratings among a cross-section of viewers, Fox has thrown a ton of money at sports, including Major League Baseball, the National Football League and NASCAR. Fox just completed the fifth year of a six-year, $2.5 billion contract to broadcast baseball, including both league championship series and the World Series.
As it turns out, the World Series still holds up very well because it generates higher ratings than most prime-time programs. The Series drew the highest ratings for Fox since last season’s “Idol” finale. No wonder Fox is looking to extend its deal with Major League Baseball beyond 2006. Aside from Simon Cowell, it’s all they’ve got.
Purists should be rooting against that from happening. There's got to be a better way to televise the World Series than the way Fox does it. This is my biggest beef - they way it is being presented to us. Starting with play-by-play man Joe Buck and color analyst Tim McCarver, the overstuffed presentation starts with the broadcast pair and ends with the most grating graphics and sound effects package on television.
For every bloop, bleep and whoosh that accompanies a visual overlay, I’m left wondering which demographic a cartoon explaining a fastball is supposed to appeal to. Kids?
Eat my shorts.
To Fox’s defense, other factors have contributed to the demise of baseball, including some of the same reasons why ticket sales are down at the box office. People have more choices for their entertainment. In addition, a four-game sweep is never good television. Not only does it waste ad revenue, but the number of viewers typically increases the longer the Series goes.
Still, Fox bears much of the burden for why the fall classic isn't what it used to be. Instead of enhancing the experience, it has somehow found a way to take something away from it.