Wait 'til Next Year: Looking for the Silver Lining in the Astros-Dodgers World Series

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Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers stands on the mound during game five of the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs.
Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers stands on the mound during game five of the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs. Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Whether the glass is half-empty or half-full all depends on what you're drinking, but it would have to be a potent dram indeed if you're a Fox Sports exec looking for a positive spin on this year's World Series matchup.

On Saturday night, the Houston Astros blanked the New York Yankees in the seventh game of the American League Championship Series, thereby eliminating the possibility of a twelfth meeting between the Bronx Bombers and the Dodgers. (The Yanks enjoy an 8-3 advantage over the Dodgers, racking up a 6-1 record in the World Series against the old Brooklyn franchise while going 2-2 when paired off with the version that's called Los Angeles home since 1958.) And while the Astros-Dodgers showdown will feature electrifying young stars like Yasiel Puig and two of the game's deadliest pitchers in Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander, the Yankees' ouster casts a bit of a pall over Fox's ratings prospects.

World Series TV Ratings 1997-2016
SOURCE: Nielsen. Ratings since 2006 are live-plus-same-day.
*Aired on NBC. All other World Series in the last 20 years have aired on Fox.
(N.B.: Winners are listed first.)
Chart by Chen Wu.

While market size isn't everything -- season-to-date, the top-rated NFL teams in national TV windows are Dallas, which represents the nation's fifth-largest DMA, followed in short order by mid-tier Pittsburgh (No. 24) and tiny Green Bay (69) -- missing out on a meeting between the two largest markets is a bit of a bad break for Fox. Despite not having met in the postseason since 1981, the Yankees-Dodgers rivalry remains oddly relevant, in the same way a Celtics-Lakers game feels like an event even when one of the squads is less-than-competitive.

Baseball is one of those aspects of Americana that's so haunted by nostalgia that someone once made a movie in which Kevin Costner plays catch with his father's ghost in a cornfield, so a little backward glance every now and again isn't necessarily unseemly. And so while we're not suggesting that even a seven-game Yankees-Dodgers set would come close to unseating their 1978 duel on NBC as the all-time most-watched, highest-rated World Series, a throw-down between Aaron Judge and the Baby Bombers and the lethal Dodgers pitching rotation probably offered Fox its only shot at possibly matching last year's epic Cubs-Indians series.

At any rate, for those keeping score at home, that '78 Fall Classic, the sequel to the previous year's series that saw Reggie Jackson belt three home runs in Game 6, put up numbers that are now hard to imagine outside of an NFL playoff game. According to Nielsen, the six-game set averaged 44.3 million viewers and a 32.8 household rating, as 56 percent of Americans who were watching TV at the time tuned in to NBC's coverage. The last time a World Series averaged so much as 30 million viewers was in 1992, when the Blue Jays beat the Braves four games to two.

As it happens, New York's other ball club was instrumental in the most-watched individual World Series broadcast since Nielsen began keeping track in 1972. Teed up by Bill Buckner's infamous error in the tenth inning of the previous night's contest, Game 7 of the stunning 1986 Red Sox-Mets series delivered a jaw-dropping 52.1 million viewers.

For all the sense of baseball having missed a grand opportunity in a Yankees-Dodgers series, a seven-game run this October would certainly make Fox and its advertisers happy. After all, no matter how the final viewership numbers add up, the World Series is all but guaranteed to draw higher ratings than any scripted offerings on broadcast or cable.

Would, coulda, shoulda. Dodgers in five.

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