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Is It Time to Stop Televising the World Series?

The Exchange

What happened to all the baseball fans?

News Corp (NWS) on Tuesday announced that this year's Major League Baseball Fall Classic between the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants drew an average of just 12.7 million viewers, making it the least watched World Series of all time and the worst since 2008, when 13.6 million tuned in. The series was broadcast for the twelfth straight year by News Corp subsidiary Fox Broadcasting.

Compare that to 2011, when an average of 16.2 million viewers turned the seven-game series between the Texas Ranger and St. Louis Cardinals into one of the most successful World Series broadcasts in recent memory.

Not Enough Games

So what was the problem this year? Two things, analysts say: the matchup and the sweep. Unlike teams such as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees that have national followings, there is less of a built-in audience for Detroit and San Francisco. That, and the four-game sweep that the Giants orchestrated this time around made the series less appealing to casual fans.

"When you have a short series, that tends to depress average ratings," Ed Desser, president of Desser Sports Media, told Reuters. The last four-game sweep in the World Series occurred between the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies in 2007 and drew an average of 17.1 million viewers.

No Surprises

Low ratings like these were exactly what analysts were concerned about when the New York Yankees were knocked out of the postseason in the American League Championship Series.

"This is not necessarily a marquee match-up," Brad Adgate, an analyst with Horizon Media told MSN. "The ratings could vary depending on how exciting the games are."

And, in terms of dollar figures, the 2012 sweep translated into roughly $100 million in ad revenue that Fox had to leave on the table. Will this year's lousy ratings drive down ad prices for future Series broadcasts? That remains to be seen, but it could have a direct impact on the fortunes of Fox, Disney (DIS) and Time Warner (TWX), which recently teamed up and spent $12.4 billion for the TV rights to the World Series through 2021.

Ad Dollars Remain

But don't cry for Fox just yet. The network was charging in the neighborhood of $425,000 for 30-second ad spots during the Fall Classic, so it brought in about $30 million in ad revenue per game this year, audience or no audience. And, ratings basement or not, 12.7 million viewers is a solid win when compared the network's usual prime-time programming.

That's probably why, even following Tuesday's announcement, Fox Sports Media Group's senior vice president of programming and research Michael Mulvihill was upbeat about the results.

"The World Series has been a top-10 prime-time hit for over 40 years and even with a four-game sweep this series was no exception," he said in a statement. "This World Series gave us exactly what we expected: a top-10 show among all viewers and a top-five show among hard-to-reach younger men. It's important for us to remain focused on the Series relative to today's competitive environment rather than bygone years."

What do you think? Is postseason baseball still appointment television in your house?