The all-California World Series drew the lowest seven-game TV ratings average in history, capping an 11-year slide in which ratings for baseball's crown jewel have declined 50 percent.
"The Series is not an automatic tune-in any more," said Neal Pilson, former president of CBS and a sports TV industry consultant. "The public is looking for stories and matchups that generate excitement. The public has to care about the outcome. There just wasn't enough passion."
The seven-game series between the Anaheim Angels and San Francisco Giants suffered a 24 percent drop from the 2001 Series, when the Arizona Diamondbacks won in seven games over the New York Yankees. This year's 11.9 average rating represented a 4 percent drop from the previous lowest-rated Series, the Yankees' five-game victory over the New York Mets in 2000.
"Baseball's got to be concerned about its future," Fox Sports Chairman David Hill told the Associated Press. "I would imagine they'll read the writing on the wall at the very highest levels and get their house in order."
Hill, whose network just finished the second year of a six-year, $2.5 billion deal to carry regular season and postseason games, including the World Series and the All-Star Game in July, blamed the summer's protracted labor negotiations between owners and players for part of the postseason apathy.
"Once again, baseball managed to turn off its loyal fans," Hill said. "I hoped it would pick up when we got to the postseason. It certainly hasn't been what I hoped it would be. Our ratings had been terrific all year. They went in the bucket when all the bristling and saber rattling started."
Although baseball executives were traveling yesterday and didn't immediately return calls for comment, Major League Baseball spokesman Rich Levin called the ratings drop part of a cycle that included an increase last season. "While there were a lot of unknown faces and that hurt in the short term, we put a lot of new faces on the national stage, and that bodes well for the future," Levin said.
Sources said last night that Fox plans to ask Major League Baseball not to schedule any games on Saturday nights in the future after poor results this year. Games 1 and 6 were on Saturday nights, traditionally the night that draws the lowest prime-time ratings. In Game 6, the Angels rallied from a 5-0 deficit, winning 6-5 and extending the Series to a seventh game but the contest drew an 11.8 rating, down two points from a sixth-game 13.8 rating in 2001. Each ratings point represents 1.05 million households with television sets.
Game 7 Sunday night, up against Redskins-Colts NFL football on ESPN and "The Sopranos" on HBO, among other popular telecasts, did a 17.9 rating, down from 23.5 in 2001.
The network's 11.9 rating came in well under the 16.0 that Fox reportedly guaranteed advertisers.
"I don't think the public ever really got excited about the Series," Pilson said. "Neither team had many players who were widely known, with the exception of Barry Bonds. You also had two West Coast cities whose teams were not traditional rivals."
Pilson cited the continuing fragmentation of a TV audience with so many more channels to choose from. With cable and satellite technology, the average U.S. household now receives 88 channels.
Fox also was hurt by two blowout games, a 10-4 Anaheim victory in Game 3 and a 16-4 Giants triumph in Game 5.
The poor ratings come eight months after Fox took a $909 million charge against earnings, saying it overpaid for its rights deals with NASCAR, the NFL and baseball.