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What is the Ratings Outlook for the Astros-Nationals World Series on Fox?

Several media professionals provide their takes on how many will tune in to this Fall Classic

The 2019 World Series between the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros begins on Tuesday night on the Fox network. The Astros look to earn their second world championship within the past three years while the Nationals are the first World Series team to hail from the city of Washington D.C. since 1933.

The Houston Astros experienced tough battles in their two playoff series this October. They eked past the Tampa Bay Rays in a five-game Division Series, although it did not generate high viewership. They got much more exposure over the past week in their six-game American League Championship Series win, thanks to their opponent New York Yankees. In a dramatic Game 6 in Houston, after the Yankees had just tied it 4-4 in the top of the ninth inning, former American League MVP Jose Altuve hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Yankees and win the pennant.

The Washington Nationals are new to the World Series stage and it’s the first time the D.C. market will be involved for the Fall Classic since the Baltimore Orioles won it all back in 1983. When that World Series aired on ABC then, though, it delivered a 23.3 household rating (41 share) — its lowest rated World Series since 1970 and the third-lowest Series of the 1980’s (only 1984 and 1989 rated lower).

The Nationals escaped a five-game Division Series against the team with best regular season record in the National League, the L.A. Dodgers. Then, they made quick work of the St. Louis Cardinals in the League Championship Series in a four-game sweep. But of the eight prior teams who also earned an LCS sweep since it became a Best-of-7 format, only one (1995 Atlanta Braves) went on to win the World Series. A layoff of seven full days may be a detriment to the Nationals.

What Astros-Nationals may lack in national interest might make up for in starting pitching with the best in the major leagues going against each other: Gerrit Cole vs. Max Scherzer in Game 1, Justin Verlander vs. Stephen Strasburg in Game 2 and Zack Greinke vs. Patrick Corbin in Game 3. But will the high aptitude in pitching stymie offense? It might be so. Although Astros hitters like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman are among the best in baseball, they hit for a mere .178 batting average (and a dismal .103 with runners in scoring position) against the Yankees in the ALCS. On paper, the Nationals pitching staff is superior to the Yankees’ staff.

With a potential for lackluster offense between teams that aren’t usually in the national spotlight, could this make for dubious history in being the least-watched World Series to-date? The 2017 World Series that featured the victorious Astros averaged an excellent 18.9 million viewers. But that series lasted the full seven games and their opponent, the Dodgers, hails from Los Angeles, the second largest TV market in the nation. (Washington D.C. currently ranks sixth, with approximately half the amount of households of L.A.)

The all-time low mark is the 12.7 million viewer average in 2012 for the 4-game sweep by the San Francisco Giants over the Detroit Tigers.

Nearly 39 percent of our website visitors predict 2019 will set a new low by going well below 12 million viewers; 20 percent believe it’ll average between 12-14 million.

About 40 percent, though, think this Fall Classic will at least improve upon last year’s Series between the Boston Red Sox and the L.A. Dodgers which had drawn 14.1 million viewers.

I inquired with professionals in the media industry to provide their ratings prognostications for the upcoming World Series. Here are their takes (as for me, I’m predicting 12.5 million — a new all-time average low, but in this declining linear TV usage era, Fox will happily accept it — and it’ll go six games with the Astros victorious. If Boston/LA last year couldn’t hit a ratings home run, Houston/DC probably does much worse. The matchups will be pitching heavy so I expect lackluster offenses. TV’s top two markets New York and Los Angeles will have scarce interest because fans from those cities are still bummed about how their teams got knocked out of this year’s playoffs.):

Jon Lewis, Sports Media Watch

13.98M over six games. I think the series will probably trend below last year, but not dramatically.

Evan Boyd, Stats by STATS researcher

16.1 million. The viewership is weighted heavily on the number of games in the series, as well as the two media markets – the series should go 6 games and will get a boost with Washington D.C. as a new WS market.

Bobby Goodsby, sports podcaster of “Clupp and the Goods” / “Big Brother” live feed updater for Rob Has A Podcast

I believe it will be around 13.6 million because the appeal of the series doesn’t feel to be there for this matchup. With the Astros being a heavy favorite before the playoffs to win it all and the Nationals pulling off some nice upsets to make it to the World Series. I just don’t feel like the draw to the national audience is there. In my opinion, I can easily see this series being a 4 game sweep in favor of the Astros which will lead to lower viewership numbers than a more compelling matchup would have drawn.

Scott Nolte, KUYY deejay/sports announcer

19.8 million, 6 games for Houston/Washington. Houston drew decent numbers in 2017 and now you add Washington who has never been in the World Series and some big names on the mound.

Jason Jacobs, KUOO deejay/sports announcer

I’m going to guess 9.3 million viewers and in 5 games. Neither of these teams are big national draws even compared to last year’s Boston-LA series.

Tony Maglio, TV editor at The Wrap

You have two good (but not amazing) markets here and five amazing (much better than good) pitchers. The Houston Astros have a few advantages here (homefield, a regular DH, the best record in baseball, three aces vs. two, World Series experience), I still expect a tight series, which is the most important factor in TV ratings. Mark me down for Astros in six, 17.4 million viewers per game.

Eric Deggans, TV critic for NPR

14 million over five games. I’m thinking the viewership will be on low scale because the Nats and Astros aren’t the most popular teams these days, and they’re not based in the biggest media markets.

Dan Serafin, News 12 The Bronx/Brooklyn sports anchor

14 million. Baseball is in a place where people largely don’t watch unless it’s their team playing or the stakes are at the highest. They need a Game 7 in this series.

Anthony Crupi, AdAge

Even in the wildly unlikely event of a four-game sweep, the World Series will put up bigger ratings than any scripted program on TV, which should invalidate much of the inevitable rending of garments and gnashing of teeth from the peanut gallery once the early numbers start trickling in. Put it this way: Through Friday, Oct. 18, Fox can lay claim to two of the three highest-rated new broadcast series in Friday Night SmackDown (1.1) and Bless the Harts (0.9), and for the record, those numbers are absolutely pathetic—the sort of thing that would get a show yanked off the schedule just a handful of years ago. 

There are, in a sense, two TV markets—and only one is at all relevant to advertisers. First there’s the hoary old general-entertainment model, which includes all those canned-laugh sitcoms, police procedurals and goony competition shows that effectively repel live viewing, and thereby all but erase the likelihood that anyone who isn’t old enough to remember having to get up to change the channel will watch the commercials. Although metric tons of it is still available via linear primetime TV, this genre of programming has may as well be remanded to the on-demand space. The other market consists of live events, which demand to be watched in real-time, and sports is king, queen and jack of this thriving ad market.

Before we get to our prediction, here are a few stats to keep in mind while you’re keeping your nose pressed to the glass of the World Series ratings picture. 

1) Of the 70 non-football programs that have aired in broadcast prime since the season began on Sept. 23, 53 are averaging a 0.9 in the 18-49 demo or worse. In other words, more than three-quarters (76%) of all programs on the Big Four networks have failed to deliver so much as 1 percent of the available audience of advertiser-coveted viewers. And since the live-same-day numbers cited here are statistically concurrent with the C3 ratings currency (at best, a broadcaster may expect a lift of two-tenths of a ratings point once the first three days of commercial impressions are tallied up), this means that all the DVR playback in the world isn’t doing a damned thing to boost the only ratings that actually matter. 

2) The average demo rating for a scripted broadcast series is now a meager 0.8. Just six years ago, CBS gave the freshman sitcom We Are Men the hook after a mere two episodes after the show had the temerity to deliver a 1.9 in the 18-49 demo. So it goes.

3) While there’s little urgency left in network comedies and drama series, live sports as a category unto itself is thriving. The two most-watched, highest-rated primetime programs are NBC’s Sunday Night Football (19.7 million viewers, 11.4 HH rating, 6.4 demo) and Fox’s Thursday Night Football (13.1 million viewers, 4.0 demo, backing out the with bonus deliveries from the NFL Network simulcasts). No. 3 is Fox’s The Masked Singer; with an average draw of 7.38 million viewers and a 2.2 in the dollar demo, the sophomore series is also the only general-entertainment show to crack a 2.0. No. 8 is ABC’s Saturday Night Football (5.59 million, 1.5 demo).

4) For the 10th straight year, the most-watched, highest-rated program on television is the late Sunday afternoon national window shared by CBS and Fox. Through Week 6 of the NFL season, the 4:20 p.m. ET games are averaging 22.6 million viewers, a 12.8 HH rating and a 6.7 in the demo.

5) In the past five years, Fox’s World Series coverage has averaged 16.9 million viewers, a 9.8 HH rating and a 4.6 in the demo. That’s a half-a-million more viewers and a few additional tenths higher than the NFL single-header windows are currently averaging on Fox and CBS. 

As much as Fox won’t be able to charge the sort of nosebleed ad rates it would’ve enjoyed if the Yankees had battled their way back to their first World Series in a decade—and a Yankees-Dodgers Fall Classic would’ve been a license to print money—there’s no shame in this Nats-Astros showdown. Fox has the advantage of selling a series featuring the nation’s seventh and eighth-largest media markets—together, the two DMAs serve 4.7 million TV HHs, or 4.4% of all TV homes, while NYC and LA boast a hair under 12 million TV homes, or 11.2% of the total available audience—and the Nationals’ efforts to win D.C.’s first baseball title in 95 years is certainly a compelling narrative. 

Of course, as far as back story goes, this doesn’t exactly rise to the occasion of the Cubs vanquishing 108 years of futility in seven back in 2016 or the cursed Red Sox flipping the bird to the Bambino in 2004. For one thing, the Nats’ quest isn’t enriched by franchise continuity; Washington went 33 years without a big league ball club until the Expos moved down from Montreal in 2005. While Fox likely will wheel out some nonagenarian to profile in pre-game, a wizened baseball enthusiast who claims that an ossified Grover Cleveland had been his babysitter, and that as a toddler he was at Griffith Stadium that fateful day in ’27 when Sloppy Thurston and Hod Lisenbee gave the 39-year-old Walter Johnson a hot foot, that sort of sentimental claptrap isn’t going to move the ratings needle.

What will? As always, a deep run. This one goes six games, with the Nats coming out on top. Fox will average 17.1 million viewers, a 9.8 HH rating and a 4.5 in the dollar demo. The lack of ratings points in the general entertainment marketplace and tightening football inventory will nudge the average cost of a 30-second in-game commercial north of $400,000 a pop. And everyone at Fox and MLB will be pleased as punch, so long as nobody pauses to think about what might have been if the New York Yankees had lived to play another best-of-seven.

Lou D’Ermilio, LOUD Communications/XFL, former Senior Vice President of Fox Sports media relations

This series features some terrific starting pitching on both sides, and I anticipate it going at least six games. Based on that, I expect the series will average about 14.75 million viewers, a notch better than last year because of some curiosity surrounding a World Series in DC and I expect one more game to be played.

Austin Karp, SportsBusiness Daily assistant managing editor

I’m predicting 5 games, 13.4 million viewers. If 6-7 games, predicting 14.0-14.5 million. As a baseball fan, I think it’s great the Nationals are going for their first World Series win, but I’m not sure that narrative will be enough to carry early games to bigger numbers, particularly with the Astros coming in as HUGE favorites.

Patrick Crakes, Crakes Media Consulting, former Senior Vice President of Fox Sports Senior Vice President Programming in Research & Content Strategy

15.2M Viewers for a six game series. Soft national appeal for both clubs is offset some by market size (#6 & #7 combining for 4.5% of U.S. TV Homes), strong regional appeal for the Astros (#7 in RSN rating), and star power at pitcher (both sides) allowing the 2019 edition of Fall Classic to cross the important 15M viewer mark – which only 5 of last 12 WS have done.

Dave Bauder, Television writer for Associated Press

I’m going to say 15.2 million. I have a hunch that it will be long Series (or maybe that’s wishful thinking.)

Robert Wright, accountant / University of Houston grad / diehard Houston sports fan

15.1 million; probably won’t go the distance and game 7 drives up the average, but our market is strong and Washington is there for the first time.

Tom Lawrenson, real estate sales agent at Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty / diehard baseball fan

My guess is 19.5 million viewers on average. Reason: 1st time team from a decent sized market (DC) playing a fan favorite team (Houston).

Bobby Hoeppner, Corporate Travel Agent for Travel and Transport / diehard sports fan

Given this is the first National League Pennant title for the Nationals/Expos and the Astros ability to draw big numbers, I’m predicting this to be a high number. Not “Chicago Cubs” high, but I will predict 16.4 million, 6 games.

Terence Henderson, T Dog Media

Even though Fox won’t have Yankees/Dodgers, there should be enough interest in the World Series to attract an audience with the Astros in for a 2nd time and the Nats their first. My prediction is 16.4 million.

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