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Fans cheers during the sixth inning of Game 2 of the American League baseball championship series between the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

In small-market playoffs, long World Series could boost ratings

A seven-game World Series would rescue a postseason for Major League Baseball that has lost both Los Angeles teams and doesn’t have the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox for the first time since 1993.

The final four clubs competing for the baseball championship leaves broadcaster 21st Century Fox Inc. television markets ranging from sixth to 31st, according to Nielsen. The Baltimore Orioles face the Kansas City Royals for the American League championship, while the San Francisco Giants play the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League.

Unlike football’s Super Bowl, which attracts audiences of about 110 million worldwide every year, World Series television ratings vary due to the match-up and duration. The three highest-rated series of the past decade all involved either the Red Sox or Yankees. Interest heats up as the series lengthens.

“Fox would rather have a seven-game series than a great matchup,” said Brad Adgate, director of research at Horizon Media. “That is what they hope for from a financial and ratings perspective.”

In 2011, when the Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers in the most-recent seven-game World Series, interest was tepid before picking up for the final two games, both of which drew 20 million viewers. It happened also in 2002 when the Anaheim Angels beat the Giants in seven games. While fewer than 20 million viewers tuned in for games one through six, the audience increased to more than 30 million viewers for the final game.

With 30-second commercials selling for about $470,000 this year, each additional game beyond the World Series minimum of four can produce about $43 million in additional ad revenue, Jon Swallen, director of research for New York-based Kantar Media Intelligence North America, said in an interview.

Advertising prices are up from about $455,000 in 2013. In comparison, a 30-second spot during February’s National Football League Super Bowl cost $4 million each, according to Kantar data.

In the best-of-seven series that determine the teams in the championship round, the Giants and Cardinals are tied at one game each in the National League Championship Series. The Royals took the first two games against the Orioles in the American League matchup. The Royals’ 13-inning win in Game 1 on TBS was the most watched game of the postseason with an average of 5.9 million viewers. The Orioles play at the Royals tonight; the National League series continues tomorrow with the Cardinals in San Francisco. The World Series begins Oct. 21 in the park of the American League champion. The series has been won 23 of the past 28 times by the team with home-field advantage.

The ideal matchup from the teams remaining, analysts say, would pit the Giants against the Baltimore Orioles. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose is the sixth-largest TV market in the country, according to Nielsen. Baltimore is the 26th largest, but the team has fans in the neighboring Washington market, the nation’s eighth largest.

Kansas City, with the 31st-ranked market, is the team in the smallest remaining market. While the Royals haven’t been in the playoffs since 1985, it is unlikely to capture the public’s imagination without a well-known player, Swallen said.

“Cinderella is easier to sell if there is at least one recognizable face to attach Cinderella to,” Swallen said. “Kansas City is operating under the difficulty of being a team that hasn’t got a lot of publicity throughout the year. For many people, the postseason might be the first time that they have seen the Royals play.”

Michael Mulvihill, senior vice president of programming, research and content strategy at Fox Sports, said the network isn’t concerned that small-market teams will meet in the World Series.

“The key to any best-of-seven series is series length and competitiveness of the games,” Mulvihill said in an e-mail. “Obviously, a long NLCS and a long World Series provide the best opportunity for success.”

Fox agreed to pay MLB $8 billion in 2012 for the right to carry the Series, as well as other playoff rounds and regular- season games, through 2021.

Having small-market teams advance deep into the playoffs is a sign that the sport is healthy, said MLB spokesman Matt Bourne.

“While market size of the teams involved is a factor in ratings as in other sports, the length of series, competitiveness of games, storylines and other factors all contribute to the interest in a particular World Series,” he said in an e-mail.

The most ideal World Series meeting would have featured the Los Angeles Dodgers, who play in the No. 2 media market in the U.S. behind New York, and the Orioles, who swept the Detroit Tigers in three games to reach the American League Championship Series. The Dodgers, with a baseball-record $235 million payroll, were eliminated from the playoffs by the Cardinals.

The last time the Orioles, whose 96 regular-season wins this season ranked second behind the Los Angeles Angels in the American League, played in the World Series was 1983.

The worst scenario, based on national appeal, would have Missouri’s Cardinals meeting their in-state rival Royals in the World Series, setting up a battle of the “Show Me State.”

“A battle of Missouri, I don’t know how well that would play on the coasts,” Adgate said.

A request for comment from the Royals was referred to Major League Baseball. Cardinals spokesman Ron Watermon didn’t have an immediate comment on the club’s national popularity.

The last time the Cardinals and Royals met in the World Series in 1985, the meeting extended to seven games, with the Royals winning the final game after first base umpire Don Denkinger called Kansas City’s Jorge Orta safe on a ground ball in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 6. Television replays showed that Orta was beaten to the base and should have been called out. Kansas City, who trailed 1-0 in the game at the time, went on to score two runs later in the inning to win the game 2-1. The Royals then clinched the series the following night with an 11-0 win. The series averaged 34.5 million viewers, peaking at 45 million in the final game.

A final series between the Orioles and Nationals, two teams in the Washington metro area, also wouldn’t have produced broad national appeal.

It was even true when the teams from the nation’s biggest media market, New York, met in 2000. The so-called Subway Series between the Yankees and the Mets set a record for low ratings at the time.

“Everyone likes to think that everyone cares about you,” Swallen said. “In fact, if you get two teams that are literally from the same geographic region, that’s generally not true.”

Unless either series extends to seven games, that is.

“If you ask Fox if they would rather have a Yankees- Dodgers series that ends in a sweep or a 7-game series with a less marquee matchup, they would probably take the latter,” Adgate said. “The most exciting words in sports is ‘Game 7.’”