Will 2017 World Series Save Fox Sports’ Autumn? T.V. Ratings Look Strong Amid NFL Slump

As a television spectacle, baseball isn’t going to be more popular than the NFL any time soon—so the World Series isn’t going to save Fox Sports executives from worry-lines as they contemplate falling NFL ratings.

But the popularity of the Fall Classic could at least provide a short-term fillip to stressed-out T.V. networks. Associated Press, via the St Louis Dispatch, reported on Thursday that Game 1 between the Dodgers and Astros on Tuesday, won by the team from Los Angeles, was watched by an average of 15,458,000 viewers, broken down between Fox, Fox Deportes and FSGO, its live streaming service.

That’s significantly lower than Game 1 of last year’s World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, which pulled in an average of 19,786,000 viewers. But that series had a more immediately compelling storyline coming in—the prospect of one historic franchise breaking a historic drought. Added together, the 2017 version probably features a bigger total television market with a slightly more niche narrative.

Still, AP noted, the ratings for 2017 Game 1 have only been bettered since 2010 by last year. That ties in with strong ratings through the 2017 playoffs—helped, no doubt, by the Yankees’ deeper-than-expected run to the ALCS. TBS recorded a 1.4 rating for the Dodgers’ NLDS-clinching victory over the Cubs last Thursday among adults aged 18-49, according to TV By the Numbers —the same as the Oakland Raiders’ last-gasp ‘Thursday Night Football’ win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

NFL ratings for the 2017 season continue to cause concern for T.V. networks. Sporting News reported on Wednesday, having obtained Nielsen figures, that through Week 7 NFL games were averaging 15.1 million viewers. That is down 5.1 percent from the same period in 2016 and 18.1 percent down from 2015. Sporting News claims the decline may be down, in part, to public dissatisfaction with the wave of protests during the national anthem sparked by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

That seems a stretch, as CBS pointed out on Monday. While certain niches may have turned off over perceived “disrespect” towards the anthem and the military, far more casual viewers are likely to be avoiding the NFL because of season-ending or threatening injuries to some of the league’s top stars.

Aaron Rodgers, for one, is probably out for the rest of the year after surgery on a broken collarbone. Andrew Luck’s return remains uncertain. Cam Newton has been up-and-down while several of the league’s better-known names like Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger, appear to be on the decline.

The next generation—Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz foremost among them—can’t quite be called breakout stars yet. And the debate over the NFL’s great existential crisis—concussions, C.T.E. and how to deal with both while keeping the game as something resembling football—is a topic that could fill several articles, and may at some level be putting children off playing football, leading, sinuously, to reduced interest in watching the elite level of the game.

The Astros and Dodgers don’t have a problem with marketable, youthful star names. Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager are going to be around for many years to come. The pitching duel between Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander shapes up as one of the best in modern World Series history. And given how good Game 2 was, Fox can expect viewing figures to rise for as long as the series lasts.

In a cloudy autumn for the NFL, America’s pastime may be a welcome ray of sunshine.

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