Game(s) on! World Series, 'Monday Night Football' Win Big

Rash Report: Sports' Hot Streak Continues

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Game on! Or rather, games on, night after night, as the nation -- and the networks -- are in the midst of a remarkable sports streak.

The Saints and Falcons game on ESPN's 'Monday Night Football' was second only to the World Series.
The Saints and Falcons game on ESPN's 'Monday Night Football' was second only to the World Series. Credit: UPI/A.J.Sisco
The World Series, for instance, is trending at least a third higher in ratings in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic than last year, with Monday night's Game 5 victory by the Philadelphia Phillies over the New York Yankees pitching a 5.3/14 rating and share in the demo. This easily led to Fox finishing first for the night, with the closest competition not one of its broadcast brethren, but rather ESPN's "Monday Night Football" victory by the New Orleans Saints over the Atlanta Falcons, which had a 5.1/14.

Comparatively, CBS was second with a 3.8/10, followed by ABC (3.0/8), NBC (1.9/5) and the CW (1.1/3).

Last night's sports double-header is indicative of recent nights as well, and was even topped by Saturday night's schedule, in which World Series Game 3 (4.7/16), NBC's Notre Dame vs. Washington State telecast (.6/2) and ABC's "Saturday Night College Football" regional telecast of Oregon vs. USC and Texas vs. Oklahoma State (3.3/12) combined to represent 85% of network rating points for the night.

The next night brought the highest-rated World Series game so far this year, a 7.8/20 for Game 4, which came after the NFL overrun of the "homecoming game" for the Minnesota Vikings' Brett Favre against the Green Bay Packers, which Fox reports was the second most-watched regular season game, in terms of total viewers, since the network has been broadcasting the NFL.

And just a week ago the NBA tipped off on TNT, which the network notes had a 35% jump in the demo compared to last year.

As with any victory on the field, the ones in the ratings race depend on a variety of factors. First, the games are starting earlier, at 8 p.m. And sure, market size matters -- Philadelphia was in the series last year, but played the Tampa Bay Rays, which represent the 13th-largest media market, while this year the Phils play the Yankees, from the biggest market. Then again, market size doesn't matter, as the Vikings represent the 15th-largest market while Green Bay, at 70th, is the smallest market in any league to have a team.

But just as likely, it's "chemistry" and "intangibles," with the sports clichés given new meaning when applied to the fans instead of the teams. The Great Recession may mean a concurrent need for an escape from the country's problems, which sports delivers upon, as well as an embrace of Americana, which big time/big personality sports has in abundance as well. And in this media mash-up era, sports narratives are the ultimate expression of drama, reality and yes, even comedy, in one.

But perhaps the biggest factor is that more men are being drawn to prime time for the big-time games. But that doesn't mean the more traditional versions of sports' mashed-up genres, which have a disproportionate female viewing base, aren't still scoring as well.

CBS's sitcoms, for instance, generally held well, with "How I Met Your Mother" (3.5/9) and "Accidentally on Purpose" (3.1/8) retaining all of their respective original episode averages (which may justify today's announcement that CBS ordered five more "Accidentally on Purpose" episodes). Meanwhile, 94% of regular viewers tuned into hits "Two and a Half Men" (4.4/11) and "The Big Bang Theory" (4.7/11). At 10 p.m. "CSI: Miami" was off a bit more, down 12% to a 3.6/10.

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See how all the shows did in the ratings.
ABC held well, too, with "Dancing with the Stars" (3.4/8) off 8% but "Castle" (2.4/6) actually building by a tenth of a ratings point. The CW had similar results, with "One Tree Hill" holding its 1.1/3 average while "Gossip Girl" was off two-tenths of a ratings point to a 1.0/2.

And even NBC, beleaguered by the NFL and Major League Baseball, let alone rival networks, held 96% for "Heroes" (2.5/6) and "Trauma" (1.9/5), which ironically had the highest rating since its program premiere a week after NBC announced its cancellation.

Of course, there is an exception, as "The Jay Leno Show" sunk to a Monday night low with a 1.2/3. Whether or not that low rating included the host himself watching isn't known. But it seems likely guy's guy Jay might have been trying to escape his own troubles -- including indicating to Broadcasting & Cable magazine that he would return to the comforts of the couch of "The Tonight Show" if asked -- by flipping between the World Series and "Monday Night Football."

WHAT TO WATCH:
Tuesday: Where's Lou Dobbs when you really need him? Aliens are the center of ABC's ambitious remake of "V."
Wednesday: The World Series once again becomes a Bronx tale as Game 6 (and 7?) returns to Yankee Stadium.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
"V" to stand for victory, at least in the ratings race. But will ABC be able to sustain ratings for the serialized sci-fi drama, considering its challenges holding audiences for "FlashForward" and "Lost"?

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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.

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