While Josh Hamilton was limping and Albert Pujols was scuffling, Adweek Magazine pointed out the real lion hearts battling to make it through the 107th World Series.
Fox Network executives.
“Fox Guts Out World Series Ratings Slide,” Adweek posted on its web site the other day.
Until I saw that headline, I’d never considered supervising the broadcast of a baseball game as a job requiring uncommon valor. But give the Fox executives credit. Surviving a ratings slide is no easy task.
If I were under duress on a battlefield, I’d want one of those guys to have my back – in a Foxhole, of course.
World Series TV ratings have been steadily deteriorating for the past 40 years. It’s another indication, supposedly, that baseball has surrendered its status as America’s national pastime to football.
(Football isn’t the national pastime, either. The national pastime is gambling on football. Absent the allure of betting on point spreads and participating in fantasy leagues, fans without a rooting interest would not be so vigilant about tuning into regular-season NFL games.)
What’s alarming about this year’s slide – ratings for Game 1 between the Cardinals and Rangers slipped 6 percent from the 2010 Series opener, and drew the second-lowest numbers ever for a Game 1 – is the apparent disinterest shown by the key 18-to-49 demographic.
The 18-to-49 age group is vital to sponsors, for reasons that escape me. Having been relegated to a not-so-key demographic – call me Mr. Irrelevant – I can assure you that 18-year-olds are less equipped to pay for products advertised on TV than their 50-something parents.
In any case, compared to the Giants-Rangers opener last year, Game 1 was down 11 percent among viewers between the ages of 18 and 49.
“The median age of Fox’s broadcast was 52 years,” Adweek noted. “Only the 2006 Series led off with an older crowd (53). Men age 50 and up accounted for 35 percent of Game 1’s overall deliveries.”
This is terrible news, I take it. Men aged 50 and up might have more disposable income than teenagers belonging to the coveted 18-49 demographic, but how do advertisers reach those challenged to watch five innings before nodding off in a pool of drool?
As I ponder the frightening state of a planet in which the Fall Classic is typically watched by men over the age of 50, it seems reasonable to ask:
Does your quality of life improve if Fox draws bang-up ratings for the World Series? Is your quality of life diminished if more TV sets are tuned into a reality show, or a situation comedy, than a Cardinals-Rangers game?
Either way, the future of the World Series isn’t in peril. It’s been 90 years since the Series was first described on radio – Grantland Rice provided the play-by-play, over a telephone, for a three-station hookup heard in Pittsburgh, Newark, N.J., and East Springfield, Mass. – and 60 years since NBC aired a coast-to-coast Series telecast.
Here’s a hunch: 60 years from now – heck, 90 years from now – the World Series will still remain an October staple.
A Series without the Yankees representing the role of Evil Empire antagonists doesn’t inspire intense conversation around the office watercooler. I get it. And I get it, too, that Seattle’s sports-talk radio stations devoted much of the past week to discussing former Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, attempting to rebuild a team that’ll take on the Seahawks today in Cleveland.
Holmgren’s legacy, nearly three years removed from Seattle, was a more substantial topic in the Pacific Northwest than Pujols’ failure to execute a cutoff play during the Rangers’ two-run, top-of-the-ninth rally Thursday in St. Louis.
I get it.
Still, if you follow the most fascinating of all sports, if you appreciate drama and tension and athletes capable of changing story lines with split-second impulses – Ian Kinsler’s stolen base in Game 2, for instance – the 2011 World Series already ranks as unforgettable.
Momentum in baseball is a fluid dynamic; it can hinge on a player’s decision to steal a base. If Kinsler doesn’t beat Yadier Molina’s throw by an eyelash, the Cardinals likely would’ve taken a 2-0 advantage into Texas on Saturday night. Of the 50 teams up 2-0 in the World Series, 40 have gone to celebrate a championship. That’s a success rate of 80 percent.
But Kinsler was safe. He scored the tying run just before the Rangers pushed across the winning run, and a World Series too close to call is shaping up as a Series too close to call.
This is going the distance.
And if I’m that key 18-to-49 demographic who isn’t tuning in?
I’ll watch Game 7, storing more details in my inattentive brain than my grandchildren ever will want to hear.