It only took 113 years.
For the first time in the history of Major League baseball, this year’s American League and National League Championship Series will feature teams from the country’s four largest cities – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. For major TV media, that’s like hitting the Superfecta at Churchill Downs. The question is, will anyone care?
For the past decade, pundits and prognosticators everywhere have decried the waning popularity of baseball with doomsdayers flat out predicting the end of America’s pastime. Part of that cynicism has been informed by declining ballpark attendance, but a large part of it is due to flagging TV ratings, especially during the playoffs.
If you look at the last 10 years, TV ratings for the World Series have literally been a roller coaster ride going up and down every single year with a few highs, but some very low lows. Even last year’s historic matchup between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs, playing in their first World Series since 1945, showed fairly average TV ratings (9.3 to 13.3) until the series went the distance.
For Game 7, more than 40 million people watched the Cubs win their first World Series in 108 years with a 21.8 rating – the highest since the Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino with their World Series win in 2004. And as if two of baseball’s biggest underdogs slugging it out in Game 7 wasn’t enough, the game even went to extra innings. For baseball fans, that’s as good as gets. Unfortunately, from a trending perspective, the same has been true for the media.
Could this be the year that World Series ratings go up for two consecutive years? This year, for the first time ever, the four most populous cities in America will have a direct rooting interest in the games. Will ratings be as big and profitable as they should be? History suggests… maybe. But here are five reasons why ratings just might go two for two this year.
3 OF 4 TEAMS REPRESENT CLASSIC BASEBALL
Among the four teams playing in this year’s AL and NL Championship Series, three – the Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs – can trace their lineage back to 1901 and the beginning of what we know as Major League Baseball. Since that time, the Yankees have dominated the post-season playing in 40 World Series and winning 27. The Dodgers and Cubs haven’t fared as well, but what they’ve lacked in championships, they’ve made up for in ballplayers. Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider, Don Drysdale, Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, Kirk Gibson, Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Rogers Hornsby, Greg Maddux, Andre Dawson, Fergie Jenkins, Sammy Sosa. Even the Dodgers and Cubs announcers – Vin Scully and Harry Caray – are legendary.
THE OTHER TEAM REPRESENTS THE YOUNG UP AND COMER
From 2011 to 2014, the Houston Astros lost 324 games. They were the worst team in baseball. But they were the worst team in baseball – with a plan. The Astros have rebuilt with young talent and now stand on the precipice of their first trip to the World Series since 2005. Led by a strong pitching corps and talented hitters top to bottom, the Astros are a young force to be reckoned with. As of today, Jose Altuve – the Astros sparkplug, 5’6” shortstop – is batting an obscene .565 in the post season. The Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs better not sleep on the Astros.
As gluttonous as the Yankees have been with MLB championships, they haven’t won it all since 2009. The Dodgers haven’t won a World Series since 1988. The Astros have never even sniffed a championship (they got swept in 2005) and while the Cubs are the reigning champs, Cubs fans still want more after waiting 108 years for the title. Big cities? Hungry fans? Lots of eyes watching games.
EVERYONE LOVES THE UNDERDOG
From the “Miracle on Ice” in Lake Placid to this year’s Houston Astros, everyone loves the underdog. A lot went into the ratings for last year’s World Series, but it didn’t hurt that the two teams playing were two of the biggest underdogs in baseball history. If the Astros get to the World Series, there will be real challenger intrigue that could drive ratings that meet or exceed last year.
The biggest reason ratings may finally repeat this year is because of the fact we started with – the four teams left in this year’s postseason represent the four largest populations in America. But it goes far beyond the DMAs where those four teams play. Love or hate the Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs, they have fans throughout the country. And while the Astros don’t have quite the reach of the other three, they do have nearly 28 million people in Texas with a keen interest in the outcome. And you know who they’ll be cheering for.