Bat Out of Hell: How the Long Ball Has Helped Boost Fox's World Series Ratings

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Brian McCann of the Astros hits a solo home run during the eighth inning against the Dodgers in game five of the World Series on Sunday.
Brian McCann of the Astros hits a solo home run during the eighth inning against the Dodgers in game five of the World Series on Sunday. Credit: Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Baseball purists may pine for the understated spectacle of the classic pitchers' duel, but if the Nielsen ratings for the 2017 World Series are any indication, an awful lot of fans prefer to bear witness to towering home runs.

Through the first five games of this year's Fall Classic, the Astros and Dodgers have combined to score a record 22 dingers, and while many of the starting pitchers have groused that the game balls have been "juiced," the ongoing fireworks display appears to have been a boon for the ratings. The World Series on Fox thus far is delivering 16.1 million viewers per broadcast, which now stands as the second-largest five-game average since the 2009 Yankees-Phillies showdown (18.7 million).

If overall viewership for the Houston-Los Angeles series is down 17 percent compared to the 19.3 million viewers Fox averaged during the analogous stretch of last year's storied Cubs-Indians set, that was to be expected. Viewers who tuned in for the 2016 World Series saw Chicago slam the door on 108 years of futility, ending the longest championship drought by any major U.S. sports franchise. (That Cleveland was looking to dispel baseball's second most-enduring title drought -- 68 seasons -- only served to make last year's series all the more momentous.)

A closer look at the Game 5 results illustrates how fans have latched on to these two dynamic teams. Despite going head to head with NBC's "Sunday Night Football" and TV's top-rated scripted series, "The Walking Dead," Game 5 absolutely owned the airwaves, averaging 18.9 million viewers, of whom more than one third (36 percent, or 6.8 million) were members of the adults 18-to-49 demo. Discounting the 23.6 million fans who watched the Cubs' 3-2 win of a year ago, Sunday night's five-hours-and-seventeen-minutes marathon was the highest-rated Game 5 since 2003, when the Yankees (yes, them again) and Marlins tangled in front of 19.9 million viewers.

To put those 18.9 million viewers in perspective, the deliveries eclipsed no fewer than 22 national NFL windows, a tally that includes five "Sunday Night Football" broadcasts, each of ESPN's nine "Monday Night Football Games" all seven "Thursday Night Football" match-ups and CBS's presentation of the Oct. 1 Raiders-Broncos scrum. Game 5 also out-delivered the season's most-watched episode of scripted TV, topping the Sept. 25 installment of "The Big Bang Theory," which drew 17.7 million viewers.

Through the first four weeks of the 2017-18 broadcast campaign, Fox is averaging 4 million prime-time viewers. According to Nielsen, Sunday night's MLB broadcast delivered more than four-and-a-half times the network's seasonal average.

As overstuffed as Sunday night was from a viewer's perspective, baseball remained the night's top destination, and by a wide margin. NBC's "Sunday Night Football" broadcast of the Steelers-Lions melee drew a season-low 13.9 million viewers and a 4.8 in the demo, which works out to around 6.2 million adults 18 to 49.

The Astros' 13-12 win also made short work of AMC's "The Walking Dead," which in the face of all that offense put up its softest numbers in six years. With an average draw of 8.92 million viewers and a 4.0 rating among the adults 18-to-49 crowd, TV's reigning scripted champ suffered a 34 percent decline compared to the year-ago telecast.

The series returns to Los Angeles tonight, with Houston looking to put an end to its 55-season title drought, while the Dodgers hope to force a seventh game. And while Halloween has a way of eating into HUT levels (that's industry argot for "Homes Using Television"), Oct. 31 World Series games are sufficiently rare to make it all but impossible to suggest that trick or treaters will have a significant impact on Fox's Tuesday night deliveries.

Tonight's showdown marks only the fifth Fall Classic game to coincide with Halloween. In two instances (Royals-Mets in 2015 and Yankees-Phillies in 2009), the holiday games were the lowest-rated of that particular series … although it's worth noting that both were played on HUT-withering Saturday nights. In other words, Fox was facing a scheduling double whammy, regardless of which teams were involved. On the other hand, the Diamondbacks-Yankees Halloween broadcast put up the second strongest numbers of the 2001 World Series, while the Giants' 4-0 shutout of the Rangers turned out to be the biggest draw of the 2010 series.

Automotive, insurance, wireless and financial services are among the most active ad categories involved in Fox's World Series coverage, of which YouTube TV is the presenting sponsor. Top auto spenders include official MLB sponsor Chevrolet as well as Lincoln Motor Co., Ford, Audi and Volkswagen, while some of the more noticeable insurance brands are Geico, Progressive and Farmers.

Game 6 is scheduled to begin shortly after 8 p.m. EDT tonight on Fox, as Houston ace Justin Verlander takes the mound against Dodgers southpaw Rich Hill. The last World Series to be decided in six games, the 2013 edition featuring Boston and St. Louis, generated $277 million in ad sales revenue, per Kantar Media estimates.

If necessary, Game 7 will take place on Wednesday night. Beginning with the 2001 World Series, which was delayed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the postseason has required just five November extensions.

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