Will This Be the Lowest-Rated World Series Ever?

The San Francisco Giants are out for their first World Series win since 1954.
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With the network and Cablevision filing FCC comments on their spat, and two upstart teams facing off, one ad expert says it could be.

NEW YORK -- The dispute between Cablevision and News Corp./Fox is looking more and more likely by the hour to keep the World Series out of the cabler's 3 million East Coast homes.

Fox is optimistic that the Series can deliver strong viewership again this year, but the dispute could dampen ratings, which at least one observer predicts will already be dismal. These are the upstart Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants, after all.

"I expect this could be the lowest-rated World Series ever," said Brad Adgate, senior vp research at Horizon Media. "It's not a great matchup for casual viewers."

Adgate pointed to the 13.6 million average viewers for the 2008 series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays as the recent low point. That, however, was followed by a rise last year to an average of 19.4 million when the New York Yankees beat the Phillies in the highest-rated Series in five years.

Although the Yankees are missing, San Francisco and Dallas/Fort Worth are among the top 10 media markets and should at least get strong tune-ins from hometown fans. Said John Shelton, CEO of media-buying software firm Strata, "Since Texas has never been in the series, the entire state will be watching."

Fox expects its highest primetime ratings of this season from the World Series, beating Glee and every freshman show on broadcast TV, and making it a top 10 show, a source said. Game 1 is set for Wednesday night at San Francisco.

Patrick Rishe, director of SportsImpacts and a sports business professor at Webster University, also is more optimistic than Adgate.

"This year's World Series will be in between 2008 and 2009's ratings -- probably close to a 10 share," he said.

He said this year's matchup is more compelling than it might seem at first. "The pitching matchups [with Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum as headliners] are juicy and potentially historic," Rishe said. "The Texas market is large, and the San Francisco market is passionate if not bandwagonish."

And the Josh Hamilton redemption story following the Texas star's struggles with alcohol and drugs is "compelling."

In other good news for Fox, World Series advertising revenue for the network, excluding local stations, has been on the rise. In 2007, the Series brought Fox about $158 million, followed by $179 million in 2008 and $235 million last year, according to data from advertising tracker Kantar Media.

This month, reports said that Fox has sold about 90% of the commercial inventory for the Series. Ad prices went for about $450,000 for 30-second spots, whereas National League Championship Series spots on Fox cost about $225,000, one report said. That would have been 7%-9% above last year, it said.

"I suspect they have sold well as the economy is stronger and sports viewing has been up," Adgate said.

If ratings in Cablevision markets get hurt by the Fox dispute, "it surely will be felt more by the local station in New York than the network," Adgate said. But he couldn't say if any shortfalls would be financially material.

Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce noted that Cablevision homes make up about only about 3% at most of Fox's ratings base.

The number of games is what ultimately will determine Fox's World Series success. Not even the strongest matchup is strong enough to make up the difference between a six- or seven-game series and one that ends after four or five.

"The over-arching key to success is volume, and since there hasn't been a seven-game World Series since 2002, we're due," a Fox spokesman said. "We've got two evenly matched teams from good-sized markets who have earned the right to play for a world championship, so a lengthy, compelling series should draw in the casual viewer."

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