Media Circus: Fox Sports executives may be the Cubs' biggest fans

The Cubs have been a one-team economic stimulus for Fox Sports 1, including giving the three-year-old sports network its first week ahead of ESPN.
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The happiest group of people to see the Chicago Cubs in the World Series? Fox Sports executives.

With interest in the team extending far beyond the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago’s postseason run has fueled record ratings for FS1, which needed the boost in viewership. In short, the Cubs have been a one-team economic stimulus for the three-year-old sports network. All 10 of FS1’s most-watched events this year are MLB postseason games, including eight Cubs’ playoffs games. The National League Championship Series between the Cubs and Dodgers averaged 7.068 million viewers through six games for FS1, including 9.7 million viewers for Game 6, the most for any LCS game on any network since 2010 and the most-watched FS1 broadcast in history. The second-most-watched game (7,180,000 viewers) in FS1 history was Game 5.

The Cubs also helped FS1 achieve a first for the network—the week of Oct. 10–16 represented the first time FS1 beat ESPN in weekly primetime and total-day audience. FS1 also led all cable (not just sports) in primetime viewership for the week of Oct. 17–24 with 4.235 million viewers, though trailed ESPN in total day viewing. In a spin straight out of the playbooks of campaign managers Kellyanne Conway (Donald Trump) and John Podesta (Hillary Clinton), FS1 ran ads during its sports programs last week that declared it had become the No. 1 sports network in America. The fine print on those ads told the true story—for one week.

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Thanks to the Cubs effect, FS1’s late-night and daytime programming got a huge boost. FS1’s MLB postgame coverage easily topped Sportscenter following games (for example, following Game 6, FS1’s MLB postgame show drew 3.371 million viewers) and set up the programming after it. For instance, Katie Nolan’s Garbage Timeset a new viewership mark (for a full show) with 561,000 viewers following Game 4 between the Cubs-Giants. Last Tuesday, Fox Sports Live with Jay and Dan drew 600,000 viewers, way up from its normal average.

Given many Nielsen viewers watch the same channel they did the night before when they wake up, FS1’s daytime shows also improved. The reptilian Skip Bayless, who fronts Undisputed with Shannon Sharpe and Joy Taylor, set a single-day record last Friday (for a first-run show) with 168,000 viewers. (A replay of the show from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. following Game 5 drew 279,000 viewers.) Colin Cowherd’sHerdsimulcast also experienced its best audience week (Oct. 10–14) with an average of 112,000 viewers per show. Many of these viewership gains will be short-lived, but it’s a nice story for the cable network to tell the Hollywood trades and advertisers.

Now comes where Fox can make its bones—and some big money. The World Series began Tuesday with a near-perfect television matchup The Cubs and Indians each have tremendous storylines. Cleveland’s 6–0 with in Game 1 is great news for Fox if you think the Cubs are the favorites in the Series. The opening game drew a 12.6 overnight rating (meaning 12.6% of the TVs in the largest 56 markets were tuned in) via Sports Business Journal’s Austin Karp. That was the highest-rated overnight for a Game 1 since 2009 when Phillies-Yankees drew a 13.8 overnight rating. The game was up 20% over last year’s 10.5 overnight (Royals-Mets) and 58% over 2014 (Giants Royals).

Sports executives root for length when it comes to a championship, and an extended World Series would set up Fox for the best World Series viewership totals since the 2004, when the Red Sox won their first championship since 1918 and averaged 25.4 million viewers. The 2009 Series averaged 19.4 million viewers, the best figure after 2004. (Last year’s Series averaged 14.7 million viewers in five games.)

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As far as revenue for the Series, Bloomberg reported that Fox was selling 30-second spots for the World Series at more than $500,000. Bloomberg added that Fox had kept much of its inventory open for a potential Game 6 and 7. If the series goes the distance, Fox could earn $20–30 million in additional revenue.

"It really isn’t a baseball story or even a sports story, It’s an American story,” said Fox MLB analyst Alex Rodriguez of the Cub-Indians. “I have so many friends from all over the country in different walks who said they have not watched the World Series in over a decade but they are going to watch this.”

During a conference call to hype the series on Monday, Fox Sports executive vice president John Entz said the fans in both Cleveland and Chicago would be a major part of the storyline and on-air presentation, including Fox setting up its studio show as close as it could to fan areas (which it did on Monday). That’s smart thinking given a major storyline of the series is the championship drought for each franchise, as well as the passion of each fan base.


The Noise Report

( examines some of the most notable stories of the week)

1. Last week Fox Sports posted a 6-minute-and-24-second video of Pete Rose giving hitting instructions (and telling batting stories) to fellow MLB studio analysts Alex Rodriguez and Frank Thomas. It’s remarkable to eavesdrop on three hitters with a combined 9,939 hits, and Fox Sports was rewarded with unheard-of social metrics for a studio show clip. The video recently passed 10.8 million views on Facebook and 143,000 shares.

How did this happen? Here’s the story.

1a. Rodriguez said he has not given extending his broadcasting career beyond this year. “I haven’t given it any more thought past this year,” Rodriguez said. “Literally, as a 10-year-old boy, I had dreams of always being a Major League Baseball player and kind of trying out my career in business. Those are my dreams. I never thought about broadcasting.”

1b. World Series game analyst John Smoltz, in his first Series broadcast, said the experience would be nothing else like he has experienced in baseball. “I have probably prepared more for this job than any other job I had in baseball,” Smoltz said. “When you are pitching, you only have to prepare for eight or nine guys. As a broadcaster, you have to look at 18 guys in a playing scenario, then of course the bench, the bullpen. I spend a lot of time looking at data, probably too much of it, and there’s a lot of video. And there’s not a moment that I’ve been through in my career that I don’t believe I can translate to television.

“So I’m enjoying the heck out of it. I enjoyed this past [NLCS] series and I’m really just kind of reacting off of a great quarterback handing it off in Joe Buck. So the biggest thing for me is I want to be as prepared as possible, which I think I’ve done, and at the same time give the audience an easier understanding of why something happened or what a guy is thinking through what just transpired.”

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1c. Per Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily: MLB headed into the World Series having averaged 4.24 million viewers for 28 playoff telecasts across FS1, TBS, MLB Network and ESPN, down 8% compared to the same period last season, when there were 31 games (including one on Fox), but up 9% from 3.9 million viewers in ’14, when there were 25 games (also one on Fox).

Karp noted that TBS was hit particularly hit hard by two LDS sweeps and then a five-game ALCS that featured a Toronto market that did not count toward its ratings. For TBS’s 12 postseason telecasts, according to Karp, the network averaged 3.18 million viewers, down from 6.35 million viewers (14 games) in 2015.

1d. It should be noted that Cubs-Dodgers series still was down 11% in viewership from the four-game Mets-Cubs 2015 NLCS on TBS (7.902 million) but up 56% from the 2014 NLCS on FS1 (Cardinals-Giants) which drew 4.5 million.). According to Sports Media Watch, the series averaged the fourth-largest audience for an LCS on cable, behind Mets-Cubs last year, Rangers-Yankees in 2010 (8.2M) and Rays-Red Sox in 2008 (7.4M).

1e. Here are ESPN’s World Series coverage plans.

1f. MLB p.r. said it issued 2,164 media credentials for this year’s World Series.

2. Game 5 of the WNBA Finals between the Sparks and Lynx drew 528,000 viewers—a very strong number given the game competed against NLCS Game 5 (Los Angeles-Chicago), Thursday Night Football and college football. The top markets for the series were Minneapolis-St. Paul (5.4); Hartford-New Haven (1.1); San Antonio (0.9); Greensboro-High Point-Winston Salem (0.7); and Memphis (0.7). The 2016 WNBA Finals averaged 488,000 viewers.

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2a. On a conference call on Monday, ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy said Timberwolves young star Karl-Anthony Towns is a “surefire Hall of Famer” and picked Towns as a sleeper MVP pick for the 2016–17 season.

2b. Van Gundy on the 2016–17 Warriors: “I think they have a legitimate chance to break the hallmark record of 33 [wins] in a row. I think they are going to get on multiple runs, even not playing guys huge minutes. I just think they are going to be overwhelming talent-wise.”

2c. TNT's NBA opening night doubleheader averaged a 2.4 overnight rating, the net’s highest-rated opening night coverage since 2013.

3. NBA fans: Here’s a long preview on what ESPN, TNT and NBA TV have in store for you this season.

4. Episode 83 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features Washington Post reporter David A. Fahrenthold, who most notably has covered Donald Trump’s charitable giving through his Donald J. Trump Foundation, and broke the story of Trump bragging about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women during a 2005 conversation with Access Hollywood caught on a hot microphone.

In this hour-long episode, Fahrenthold discusses the parallels between political reporting and sports reporting; how he and his Post colleagues reported the Access Hollywood tape story; why he will not reveal the source to that story; how the Post verified the authenticity of the video; what it was like knowing he had a story that would have a seismic impact on an election; and much more. A reminder: You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.

4a. Episode 84 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast will feature Elliotte Friedman, an NHL insider and reporter for Hockey Night in Canada and NHL Network, and a columnist for Sportsnet’s (Canada) website. It will be released on Thursday.

In the podcast, Friedman discusses the relationship between the Canadian media and the NHL, how he puts together his 30 Thoughts column each week, the biggest storylines in hockey in 2016-17, how the game is covered in Canada, what Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews mean for the league and Gary Bettman, the on-air changes at Hockey Night In Canada, mixing up Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in a race while calling the Rio Olympics for CBC and feeling like he let his country down; working on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown, and much more.

5. Sports Business Daily media writer John Ourand had an interesting interview with Pardon the Interruption co-hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. Here was a noteworthy exchange:

John Ourand: Are you an entertainer, Mike?

Michael Wilbon: No.

Tony Kornheiser: It makes me happy to make him squirm.

MW: People talk about our relationship. That’s who Tony is. I’m not that. I’m not a journalist exactly anymore. I’m mostly not. But I occasionally play one. I’m never an entertainer. I don’t have that skill. I don’t have that talent.

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5a. Nice recognition from Variety for Ishmael Hinson, a young CAA staffer who works as a coordinator for that agency’s sports media group. Hinson works closely with many people you watch on sports TV.

5b. Mike Tirico will host NBC’s primetime coverage of the 2016 Breeders’ Cup World Championships from Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.

5b. Big story for sports broadcasting as Nielsen launches out-of-home ratings. This means that there’s now a metric (based on sampling) where those in places like airports, bars, dorms amd restaurants will be counted in the Nielsen ratings.

5c. Some serious shade thrown by Fox 8 Cleveland on TBS’s baseball coverage.