Fox earns a big payday at the end of a wild and wooly World Series
Welcome to the another edition of Ad Age Sports Media Brief, a weekly roundup of news from every zone of the sports media spray chart, including the latest on broadcast/cable/streaming, sponsorships, endorsements, gambling and tech.
♪ The Nats win, doo doo do doo do doo ♫
A week ago, Fox was staring down the business end of a possible four-game World Series sweep, one that might’ve found the network in the unenviable position of having to leave some $150 million in ad sales revenue on the table. But in what would prove to be one of the weirdest, most unpredictable Fall Classics in recent memory, the full seven frames were required to settle the showdown between the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros.
While media reporters have churned out the predictable surfeit of ratings Guernica in light of Fox’s MLB deliveries, all that molar-gnashing apocalypticism proved to be as goofy and myopic as it’s always been—especially in light of how the rest of television is performing this season.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, Game 7 on Wednesday night averaged 23 million viewers and a 13.1 household rating, making it the 20th most-watched broadcast of 2019. The ratings spike brought the full series average to 13.9 million linear TV viewers and an 8.1 rating, while generating north of $400 million in total ad sales revenue for Fox.
Along with being the series’ biggest draw, Game 7 was also the youngest-skewing broadcast, with Fox reaching an audience with a median age of 55.3 years. Over the course of the seven games, Fox’s median age was 56.9 years, up a smidgen vs. last season’s 56.2. Baseball draws a decidedly older crowd than the other marquee sporting events; for example, CBS’s coverage of Super Bowl LIII posted a median age of 47 years, while the 2019 NBA Finals on ABC delivered a series average of 47.4 years during its six-night run.
To put the Game 7 ratings deliveries in perspective, the broadcast currently stands as the sixth highest-rated program since the 2019-20 season began on Sept. 23, trailing four of Fox’s national NFL windows and the Sept. 29 installment of “Sunday Night Football,” which featured the league’s two top draws in Dallas and New Orleans.
From a historical standpoint, the 2019 World Series now ranks as the fourth lowest-rated MLB title tourney since Nielsen’s been monitoring the data; the additional 575,000 viewers per game that watched via streaming platforms and the Spanish-langue channel Fox Deportes gave this year’s set a leg up over the 2014 Giants-Royals championship, while the vanilla linear TV ratings easily surpassed the lowly 2008 and 2012 events.
In terms of the dollar demo, the Nats-Astros series averaged a 3.4 rating, which works out to around 4.44 million adults 18-49. Season-to-date, the general-entertainment/non-sports program that has come anywhere near to serving up that many advertiser-coveted viewers is Fox’s own “The Masked Singer,” which through four episodes is averaging a 2.2 rating, or on the order of 2.85 million adults 18-49. Game 7 served up 7.92 million viewers from that same age range.
Here’s another way to frame this year’s World Series deliveries: Through the first five weeks of the fall broadcast season, the 67 entertainment shows (comedies, dramas, competition series, etc.) are eking out a miserly 0.8 rating, good for just 1.04 million members of the target demo. If the last 20-plus years of history is any guide, those numbers will be even more throttled next season, which suggests that Fox and its estimated 6 billion commercial impressions (per iSpot.tv data) won’t have to worry much about taking a beating on pricing in 2020.
Another factor to keep in mind when assessing the value of the volume play that is live sports is that pricing is often a function of certain primary considerations such as the size of the media markets served by the representative franchises and whether or not a network is fortunate enough to have a global brand in the mix once the sales process begins. If the New York Yankees figure out a way to get to their 41st World Series next fall, Fox Sports ad sales chief Seth Winter isn’t going to be fielding a lot of gripes about how this year’s MLB showcase fared in Nielsen homes.
Speaking of Seth Winter, Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand on Wednesday caught up with Fox’s deal broker shortly after he sold off the last of his Game 7 inventory. Winter told the long-suffering Orioles fan that his ad rates shot up by 15 percent from the sixth game to the seventh, and continued to snowball as the sales day progressed and the supply began ran low.
Now basking in the refracted Beltway glory of the Nats’ historic win, Ourand reported that Winter had arrived at his Manhattan office at the ungodly hour of 6:50 a.m. and was fully sold out by by 2:30 p.m. (Not bad for a former theology major!) A clean-up crew spent the rest of the afternoon “selling contingency ads, which are sold around added pitching changes or extra innings,” Ourand noted, before adding that Winter also saw to dishing out some make-good units where necessary.
“We had some liability that we felt we owed our better sponsors that we wanted to make sure that we placed,” Winter told Ourand. “We had a significant quantity of units that we had to sell today. It was no layup.”
Washington’s unlikely road to the MLB crown—in a postseason run that was the stuff of canonization fodder, the Nats became the first team to produce five come-from-behind victories in win-or-go-home games—wasn’t just about dollars and demo data. Viewers who stuck with Fox for the on-field celebration would bear witness to a slip-and-slide from an Absolute Unit, while a look into the visiting team’s locker room offered a glimpse of World Series hero Juan Soto’s first-ever “sip” of beer.
Also: In honor of Gerardo Parra’s heroic efforts to make his walk-up song “Baby Shark” the sports anthem of this or any decade, some of the Nats’ commemorative championship tees have been emblazoned with an image of the toothy maritime predator holding the Commissioner’s Trophy in his fins.
(Of late we’ve been spending a good deal of time with an energetic—if not to say chaotic—toddler, and as such, we can attest to the occult powers of the song. In 20 years, New York and other stops along the megalopolis will be overrun by the first generation of “Baby Shark” street toughs, and the punishment these entranced goons will mete out to those of us too old and slow to flee their wrath will make that “OK Boomer” nonsense look like a day at the intergenerational beach.)
As the District celebrated its second major sports title in as many years, one over-served Nats enthusiast most definitely did not Stick to Sports, giving one Fox 5 reporter an earful of potty-mouthed political commentary. Somewhere, a joyless George Will clutched his signature bow tie and made a disapproving face, like one of the town elders from “Footloose.”
R.I.P., Deadspin: 2005-2019
If the World Series was a reminder that sports still have the capacity to gather a whole bunch of people together who aren’t mortaring more bricks into the foundation of the roiling shithouse that is the national malaise, what just went down at Deadspin served as an admonition to anyone who still believes that private equity doesn’t lay waste to everything it touches—especially when the money men are febrile dunderheads who don’t understand anything they didn’t learn about in the first semester of their MBA program.
Our esteemed colleague Simon Dumenco has a far more learned and nuanced take on the Deadspin-G/O Media debacle, one that doesn’t include the 36 different swears we deployed in our original draft. As such, we’re going to use this space to marvel at the sort of pissy myopia that allowed the Galaxy Brains at G/O to watch the likes of David Roth, Drew Magary and Albert Burneko (to name just a few) walk out the door, thereby bringing the entire established reader base with them. Did the G/O crew learn that at Wharton or is that the sort of thing you just sort of idly pick up between DMT binges at Choate?
Oh, and also, the fact that much of this week’s folly was precipitated by G/O management’s insistence upon wrecking the Deadspin user experience with noisy autoplay ads in the Year of Our Lord Two-Thousand-and-Nineteen is a real Masters of the Universe-type move. Forget about the meek; it’s the stupid that will inherit the earth.
Lastly—and again, go read Simon’s piece if you want to read an analysis that isn’t wholly informed by spite and vitriolic rage—here are a few representative samples of what we lost this week. Don’t click on any of these links if you’re George Will.
Too big to fail
We’re pretty much halfway through the regular season and the NFL ratings boom shows no sign of slowing down. Through the first eight weeks of the fall campaign, the league’s TV windows are averaging 15.8 million viewers and a 9.2 household rating, which marks a 5 percent increase compared to the year-ago 15 million/8.8.
The 4:20 p.m. Sunday national window remains the NFL’s biggest individual draw, with Fox and CBS averaging 22.4 million viewers and a 12.8 rating in the time slot, up 6 percent from the analogous 21.1 million/12.2 in 2018. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” is breathing down their necks, however, as the prime-time showcase is currently averaging 19.7 million viewers and a 11.3 rating, for a season-to-date lift of 5 percent. Fox’s “Thursday Night Football” is up a whopping 18 percent to 15 million viewers and a 9.0 rating, while ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” is 2 percent better off than it was at this point in the 2018 season (11.3 million/6.8).
The Sunday afternoon regional windows on Fox and CBS are also up, with the single-header having improved 3 percent thus far to 16.1 million viewers and a 9.4 rating, while the early regional contests are up 8 percent to 13.8 million/8.1.
You tell ’em, Burneko.