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October 30, 2008

In memoriam: The 2008 World Series

83458720 Fox's presentation of the World Series limped to a conclusion Wednesday night, overshadowed in the media by a political infomercial. It was a humbling finish to the hallowed annual tradition, which this season seemed cursed from the very start.

The Series was saddled with two teams -- the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays -- without a national following. Poor weather pushed the start time of Saturday night's Game 3 past 10 p.m., with the game concluding at nearly 2 in the morning. On Monday, rain played a role again, resulting in Game 5 being suspended after six innings -- a World Series first. Not to mention, the Phillies dominance zapped the latter games of any suspense that might have otherwise convinced viewers to tune in.

By the time Game 5 resumed on Wednesday following Barack Obama's primetime ad, the whole affair seemed to want to be put out of its misery. The Phillies won the final game and the Series, their second World Championship ever.

The ratings, as one might expect, were not pretty.

The World Series has been on a general downward trend for the last several years and this round easily became The Lowest Rated Ever.

The series averaged 13.6 million viewers, down 14% from the last five-game series in 2006. Compared to last year, the Series was down 20%. Among adults 18-49, the Series averaged a 4.4 rating, down 21%. The Series also included the lowest-rated game ever -- Game 3 was the least-watched Series outing since Nielsen started tracking the Championships in 1968.

This is not Fox's fault, of course. But it's the sporting event roulette wheel the network spins each year. And this turn resulted in dull teams (to a national audience, at least), disastrous weather and viewers distracted by a nail-biting presidential election. 

"This World Series got off to a solid start last week and was poised to build momentum as we expected it to," said Fox Sports president Ed Goren. "The rain delay on Saturday and suspended game on Monday, combined with going only five games, obviously worked against the Series reaching its maximum viewership potential."

"But even with that," he added, "Fox was No. 1 most nights, posted some of its best nights in many weeks and was No. 1 last week in prime time."

As Goren pointed out, the Series still managed to pull competitive ratings and helped boost the network into first place last week. It just wasn't the sports powerhouse that makes disrupting your entire fall schedule seem worth the trouble. The relatively brief conclusion of Wednesday night’s Game 5 (19.8 million, 6.3) was the most-watched portion of the Series.


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