Earlier starting times, large-market teams and an underdog winner. But none of those factors could rescue the World Series in the television ratings, and a theory that has been bandied about for a few years might have played a role.
After the Cardinals and Tigers in 2006 drew what at that time was the lowest ratings for a World Series, J.A. Adande — then with the Los Angeles Times as well as ESPN — had an interesting view: The massive dose of Yankees and Red Sox games on the networks during the regular season leads to a letdown for viewers when one of them doesn't advance far in postseason play.
And with this year's competitors drawing little national attention this season, the rating for the San Francisco-Texas matchup tied for the lowest in Series history — The Nielsen Co. says 8.4 percent of the nation's homes with a TV tuned in to the telecasts on Fox. So, the ratings low of 2006 (10.1) already has been surpassed twice, first with the 2008 Tampa-Philadelphia pairing that now has been equaled.
"When the World Series comes around and these teams show up on your doorstep, they are strangers instead of old friends," Adande said in '06. "You don't get to know the personalities, the behind-the-scenes stories. If baseball wants to enjoy good ratings in the postseason, they need to think ahead (in TV scheduling). They'll be repaid in October when you have familiar teams on the game's greatest stage."
But Fox's Joe Buck, who just wrapped up his 13th Series in the play-by-play slot, knows that isn't realistic.
"Fox is trying to run a business and when you have the Yankees on, when you have the Red Sox on — and Cubs and Cardinals on to some degree — you've got these teams people watch," he said Thursday. "That's when you get the higher ratings and that's what they're basing their ad rates on.
"That sounds good in theory (to feature more teams), but like I said on one of the HBO shows (I used to do), 'If you think there is a perceived East Coast bias, guess what? You're right.' That's where people are watching, that's were the numbers are."
Still, all wasn't gloom and doom for the Series. Although it lost to the NFL for the first time when the two went head-to-head in prime time — Sunday's Saints-Steelers contest on NBC edged baseball's Game 4 — the Series clincher beat "Monday Night Football" by a small margin and the Series is 10-1 vs. the NFL in the past two decades when they've been on at the same time. And the Series boosted Fox to victory in total viewers (12 million) in prime time last week.
"It's a solid number no matter any way you look at it in today's television world," Buck said. "Everybody's fighting for eyeballs, when you're delivering that night after night for a World Series, it's something to be proud of."
Fox, which has carried the past 11 Fall Classics, has been hampered by short Series. Only three of those have lasted six games and just two went seven. Viewer interest and ratings historically build as the Series progresses.
"We need volume of games," Buck said. "... Had we gotten to six and seven, I think it would have been much more successful ratings wise. But that's the nature of what we all signed up for."
A GRAPHIC GOOF
As decisive Game 5 wrapped up Monday, Fox popped a graphic on the screen showing a glimpse of life in the United States in 1954, the last time the Giants were atop the baseball world. It showed, as Buck discussed: The price of gas was 21 cents a gallon, the president was Dwight Eisenhower, the top TV show was "I Love Lucy" ... and no MLB teams were west of the Mississippi.
Just one problem. The Cardinals have been playing just off the west bank of the Old Man River since the late 1800s, in Buck's home town of St. Louis — where he has worked in the booths of that team that his dad broadcast for decades. Chalk it up to the perils of live TV, and Buck is having some fun with the flub.
"This obviously proves I'll read anything at the end of a broadcast put in front of me, which is exactly what got Ron Burgundy in trouble," he quipped.
(Burgundy was the bumbling newscaster portrayed by Will Ferrell in the 2004 comedy classic movie "Anchorman.")
Buck's partner, analyst Tim McCarver, played in more than a thousand games for the Cardinals and also missed the miscue.
"We never majored in geography," Buck deadpanned.
"But 33 hours of live TV, I'll take that percentage. That (factoid) was something they put together during the game. It didn't even dawn on me. That's the beauty of what we do."
Buck, who returns to his role as Fox's lead NFL play-by-play voice Sunday with the Giants-Seahawks game, said he had a blast with baseball.
"I don't think I've ever had more fun doing a World Series than I had this year," he said. "I think it has to do with the matchup and teams and the guys we were covering and the fun we had in the clubhouse. I walk away smiling, huge. I loved it."