The World Series starts in a few hours, between the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers. I couldn't help but think with this matchup between two mid-market teams, the TV ratings will leave something to be desired in the end. With that in mind, I decided to look and see how the ratings for the past 11 World Series (all since the '94 strike) have stacked up. Thanks to Baseball Almanac, (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/ws/wstv.shtml) I have my answer:
2005: Chicago White Sox vs. Houston - 11.1
2004: Boston vs. St. Louis - 15.8
2003: New York Yankees vs. Florida - 13.9
2002: Anaheim vs. San Francisco - 11.9
2001: New York Yankees vs. Arizona - 15.7
2000: New York Yankees vs. New York Mets - 12.4
1999: New York Yankees vs. Atlanta - 16.0
1998: New York Yankees vs. San Diego - 14.1
1997: Cleveland vs. Florida - 16.8
1996: New York Yankees vs. Atlanta - 17.4
1995: Cleveland vs. Atlanta - 19.5
I thought some of these ratings were a bit surprising, especially the relatively low rating for the 2000 World Series between the Yankees and Mets, which makes me question the old adage that you need big market teams to get the big ratings. The conclusion I can draw is that a Series will get higher ratings if there's a compelling storyline that draws in the casual baseball fan. Looking at a few examples:
1995: Two mid-market teams, but the first World Series since1993 because of the strike the year before.
2001: You had a big market team in the Yankees, but it probably drew in more viewers than the previous year's Subway Series because it was only months after 9/11, and people wanted to see if the Yankees could win the championship for the city of New York.
2004: The romanticized notion of the Red Sox breaking their 86 year curse, staging the greatest comeback in playoff history, and the fact that the team had some really charismatic characters like Johnny Damon, Curt Schilling, and David Ortiz.
With that in mind, I don't think that this Series has the sexy storyline to bring in the big time ratings. For the more intent baseball fan, this has the potential to be a great series. Can the Tigers complete what would probably be the most amazing three-year turnaround in baseball history? Can the Cardinals continue their improbable run through the playoffs and win a championship with only 83 regular season victories (which would be a record)?
Unfortunately, that won't be reason enough to watch the World Series for the casual baseball fan. The only true superstar between these two teams is Albert Pujols, but even he doesn't have the personality to draw in viewers beyond those who would already be watching.
It's interesting to stack up these ratings for baseball against the Super Bowl. Last year's Super Bowl, between two decidedly smaller-market teams in Pittsburgh and Seattle was the second most-watched TV show of all time! Not just Super Bowl, but TV show - overall - ever. Of course, the Super Bowl is a one-game elimination vs. the best-of-seven World Series, not too mention the NFL's overwhelmingly greater popularity.
I wonder what Commissioner Bud Selig does when he sees the disparity in ratings between the two sports and feels helpless to do anything about it. Short of changing the fundamental structure of the baseball season and it's playoff setup, I don't see how anything will change in the future.