SBJ/October 24-30, 2011/Events and Attractions

Cheers for a seven-game Series grow louder than ever

Baseball’s complicated local/national postseason dynamic is once again at the forefront, as more parochial World Series metrics such as merchandise sales boom (see story) while national fan interest in the St. Louis-Texas matchup lags.

Overnight TV ratings for Game 1 last Wednesday were a 9.6 — 8 percent lower than last year’s San Francisco-Texas matchup, but 30 percent lower than the New York Yankees-Philadelphia opener in 2009, and the second-lowest Game 1 overnight since 1987.

On one hand, the series features arguably the game’s best player and certainly this winter’s biggest free agent, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols. For baseball purists, the Rangers-Cardinals matchup is perhaps the most even World Series pairing in at least a decade, and it also serves as another strong statement on the sport’s historically robust competitive balance. Depending on the result of the series, MLB will have no fewer than nine different World Series champions in the last 11 years.

But as MLB plays its first all-Central Time Zone World Series since the Chicago White Sox’s sweep of Houston in 2005 — a series that set a record low at the time for the event’s viewership — the term “flyover country” again shows some inherent truth.

MLB, Fox Sports and ad buyers all agree that series length is perhaps more critical than ever this year. Each group has been pining for long series for years, and the World Series has not
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St. Louis fans may be excited, but even the presence of superstar Pujols (above) doesn’t seem to be helping the Series nationally.
gone to the full seven games since 2002. With ratings expected to stay weak, a long series would allow for additional advertising sales, and ideally, time for fan buzz to grow.

“What we really want is seven games, regardless of how it turns out,” said Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president of business.

IDOL SYNERGY: MLB continues to expand its reach in social media, following up its successful seasonlong Fan Cave marketing and content effort with a Facebook chat last week with Game 1 national anthem singer Scotty McCreery. The country crooner and 2011 “American Idol” winner initially was to conduct the chat on MLB’s Facebook page, which has about 701,000 fans. But after some last-minute coordination between the public relations staffs of MLB and Fox Sports, the chat moved to the Facebook home for “American Idol,” which has nearly 7 million fans.

The tenfold increase in reach was fueled by corporate synergy in which “American Idol” airs on Fox, home of the World Series each year since 2000. Strategically, the move also put McCreery and the World Series discussions in front of casual fans and general consumers not nearly as predisposed to watch the games.

‘SUNDAY NIGHT BASEBALL’ ALL WEEK: ESPN doesn’t have any live television rights to the World Series, and it never has, holding only radio game rights to the event. But that didn’t stop the company from last week sending its largest contingent of on-air talent and reporters to the fall classic.

In years past, ESPN would send perhaps four or five on-air TV analysts to the World Series. This year, 13 are present, joined by more than a dozen other reporters and correspondents all pushing content to radio, ESPN.com, the company’s TV networks and its social media channels. Additionally, Steve Berthiaume was anchoring live morning “SportsCenter” updates from outside Busch Stadium, the first time ESPN has pushed live World Series content at that time of day. And for the second straight year, local online hub ESPNDallas.com is contributing deeper coverage of the American League champion Rangers.

ESPN’s coverage plan essentially represents an extension of its “Sunday Night Baseball” efforts, in which this year the network for the first time set up a “Baseball Tonight” studio at each game site. While not a direct copy of the often-raucous “College GameDay” setup, the on-site studios nonetheless allow looks into the ballpark atmosphere and provide a more lively setup than an empty stadium interior.

The network was in St. Louis twice during the regular season for the “Sunday Night Baseball”/“Baseball Tonight” setup, making for a comfortable return last week for the World Series.

“It’s a very straightforward pooling of all our resources and all our manpower that we’ve developed over the years,” said Mike McQuade, ESPN vice president of event production. “We have begun to figure how to really deploy all these assets in a more coordinated, round-the-clock kind of way.”

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