When the playoffs begin on Wednesday, fans won’t be the only ones watching the games and theoutcomes closely. So will TBS, and ultimately, FOX. The games will offer everything from a case of 100-year World Series futility, a team that has never made the playoffs, a team that hasn’t been in the playoffs since the ‘80s, two teams from the Los Angeles area, potentially two teams from Chicago, and the 2007 World Series champion.
And if one thinks that some of the lesser known teams (that would be you, Rays and Brewers) have kept advertisers away, think again. The Sports Business Journal reports that while the severe downturn in the economy has kept domestic auto makers and financial service groups from making heavy advertising investments in MLB’s postseason (Bank of America, as a league partner has made an investment in purchasing ad time), “playoff ad inventory is more than 80 percent sold on both Turner, which will carry the entire Division Series round and the AL Championship Series, and on Fox, home of the NLCS and World Series. Sales have been boosted by buys from the foreign auto sector along with buys from electronic manufacturers and beverage brands.”
One of the biggest factors that could boost ratings entails the fact that plenty of big market teams are in the mix despite the absence of a New York team in the postseason. While the Mets missed the playoffs on the last day of the season for the second time in as many years, the MLB playoffs will not see the New York Yankees as an October regular for the first time in 13 years. Instead, there are two Los Angeles area teams (No. 2 market), Chicago (No. 3 market), Philadelphia (No. 4 market), Boston (No. 7 market), and St. Petersburg/Tampa (No. 12 market).
But, at the end of the day, there will be match-ups that might best be termed the “bronze medal” compared to landing the gold. Here’s a breakdown of the great, good, and not so good, from a ratings perspective.
Everyone Loves a Loser – The team that most every television executive will want to see in the World Series is the Chicago Cubs. With the Red Sox and White Sox recently winning World Series championships, the Cubs are the story line. 100 years is simply too symmetrical and too perfect for the nation not to be sucked in.
The Dream Match-Up – What's the perfect match-up? Some in television may have dreamed of a Yankees vs. Cubs World Series, if only for New York’s massive market size. But it has been the Red Sox which have become the next dynasty. Red Sox Nation vs. the Nation of Loveable Losers? There’s the dream match-up.
Too Close to Home – How about match-ups that may be great, but a bit too close to home. As we saw in the Subway Series, there’s little national interest if two teams from the same market go head-to-head. That’s why a possible White Sox vs. Cubs or Angels vs. Dodgers World Series would drive ratings down.
Underdogs, but Will the Nation Care? – The Brewers haven’t been to the playoffs since winning the American League Championship in 1982. The Tampa Bay Rays have never been to the postseason. The match-up would be a great story. It would also be a ratings swoon – MLB’s smallest market going up against a team filled with an exceptionally talented roster that the casual baseball fan couldn’t tell you a lick about.
The “Sorta Snuck Up On You” Series – How about a World Series match-up that hardly anyone has talked about? One with the Phillies and the Twins. Few, if any, thought the Twins would be in the playoffs at the beginning of the season, and the Phillies quietly and methodically remained strong as they watched the Mets collapse (again). While the Rays and Brewers might be a swoon, at least if offers a compelling story lines about playoff futility. A Twins vs. Phillies World Series wouldn’t be able to play off that. That’s why this match-up ranks as the least favorable of any scenario this year in terms of ratings.
Most Compelling ALDS: Red Sox vs. Angels
Most Compelling NLDS: Cubs vs. Dodgers
We’ve talked about team match-ups, but how about the people that make up the teams – the storylines within the story? Here’s a list of players, managers, GMs and owners that make the backstories for the games.
Cubs – How many times will Lou Pinella’s name be mentioned? Expect a lot. He’s colorful (would it surprise anyone to see a montage of Lou melting down?) and has been mentioned in some circles as NL Manager of the Year. The other player that will get a lot of air time? Carlos Zambrano. If he wasn't the star before his no-no in Milwaukee against the Astros, he will be now. How many times will the sale of the Cubs be mentioned? It’s an interesting story, no doubt, but the details are boring. The only exciting tie-in will be mentioning Mark Cuban.
White Sox (if they make it in) – Two individuals should dominate coverage: Ken Griffey, Jr. and Ozzie Gullien. Griffey, who was once considered a lock for the Hall of Fame was hardly noticed when he passed 600 home runs. Now, Junior has a chance to get into the postseason for the first time since playing for the Seattle Mariners in 1997. If the White Sox and Cubs were to somehow make it to the World Series, then there’s the “manager/player” story: Pinella was Griffey’s manager in Seattle.
Rays – The story here is the entire team. Certainly Evan Longoria, a strong candidate for AL Rookie of the Year, will get plenty of shout outs along with Scott Kazmir, Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, and, for “veteran flavor,” Cliff Floyd. Likewise, there will be lots of talk about Rays owner Stuart Sternberg and President Matt Silverman reviving the team since taking over from then Devil Rays owner Vince Naimoli. Throw in a line or two about the Trop and plans for a new stadium, along with the words “surprising” and “young,” and the Rays make for a compelling story to go along with being a great team.
Angels – The main story here has to be the way the team obliterated the AL West (they were 21 games ahead of the Rangers at the end of the season). Throw in a dose of Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero, F-Rod and Mike Scioscia to boot, and the Angels make for “the dominant team” mantel.
Red Sox – What’s to say? Two World Series championships in four years, Dustin Pedroia as an AL MVP candidate, Schilling to retire?… Ortiz, Youkilis, Varitek, Theo, and Terry Francona, coupled with a huge fan base, make the Red Sox ratings gold.
Dodgers – Two big stories here: Joe Torre makes the playoffs while the Yankees don’t, and Manny Ramirez. Other compelling stories? Jeff Kent almost assuredly retiring after the season, and just how bad an investment it was to pick up Andruw Jones.
Phillies – There will be plenty of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley talk, but the best player stories has to be Brad Lidge and Jamie Moyer, who turns 46 in November.
Twins (if they make it in) – Joe Mauer, impending new Stadium, Joe Mauer, Joe Mauer. The other stories for the Twins... Francisco Liriano being called up after his long departure on the DL, the fact that they made the playoffs after trading Johan Santana and losing Torii Hunter to free agency, the lasting marks of former GM Terry Ryan and former manager Tom Kelly?
Enjoy the playoffs.