Big-Market Teams Out of Playoffs

Wednesday, October 10th 2007, 10:16 am
By: News On 6

All those fans tuning into the National League division series games to see the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies received an introduction to the young, exciting teams that eliminated them.

Major League Baseball and Turner Sports executives now must hope the exposure translates into viewers for the NL championship series between two clubs with less tradition and from smaller markets: the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.

TBS's foray into televising playoff baseball drew strong ratings despite quick endings for the opening-round series. The 13 games attracted an average of 5.7 million viewers on the cable network. That was a 26 percent increase over last year's figures, which included games available to more people on over-the-air TV on News Corp.'s Fox, as well as cable broadcasts on ESPN, which is owned by Disney.

``We are extremely ecstatic, if you will,'' Turner Sports president David Levy said Tuesday. ``We didn't believe with three of the four series being sweeps that we'd get these kinds of numbers.''

The division series included teams from the nation's four-largest TV markets: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. The Yankees, Angels, Cubs and Phillies were all eliminated.

The Boston Red Sox, boasting a large national fan base and hailing from the seventh-largest market, remain. They are joined in the ALCS, which airs on Fox, by Cleveland (the No. 17 market). The Indians have the hook of not winning the World Series since 1948.

The NLCS on Time Warner's TBS pits the Diamondbacks (No. 12) against the Rockies (No. 18) _ both expansion franchises created in the last 14 years.

The Boston, Cleveland, Denver and Phoenix markets combine for 7.2 million households with televisions, according to Nielsen. That's fewer than the number in the New York area alone.

This year's NBA finals involving two smaller-market teams drew record-low ratings. Ratings for the Cleveland-San Antonio series were down 27 percent from the 2006 finals featuring Dallas and Miami. The Cleveland and San Antonio markets combine for 2.3 million households with televisions, compared with nearly 4 million between Dallas and Miami.

Levy is optimistic that the momentum of the division series will carry into the NLCS. He cited several factors for the strong ratings that he hopes will continue to hold true.

Later start times this resulted in fewer games being played while fans were at work. The large audiences of TBS and TNT meant that promotions for the playoffs reached a great number of viewers.

The sensitivity to scheduling is reflected in the NLCS games between two teams from the West starting at 8:37 p.m. or 10:18 p.m. EDT _ the first time baseball has scheduled West Coast night games in the LCS.

Beyond market sizes, the competitiveness of a series can make a considerable impact on ratings. An NLCS full of close finishes that goes to six or seven games would likely pull in the casual fan.

``As far as we're concerned,'' Levy said, ``we've already hit a home run.''