- The biggest winners of the MLB playoffs are, of course, the Chicago Cubs. But on the television side, there were plenty of great moments—and a few shortcomings—to grade.
As they sat for a late dinner near their Cleveland hotel last Tuesday night following Game 6 of one of the most memorable World Series we’ve witnessed, Fox Sports executive producer John Entz asked MLB studio host Kevin Burkhardt and studio analyst Frank Thomas to take a couple of moments to consider how fortunate they all were given the storylines, drama and television ratings for this MLB postseason. “This honestly may never happen again in our entire careers,” Entz told Burkhardt and Thomas, who agreed with their boss.
That trio—and all of Fox Sports—can thank the Cubs and Indians for an incredible magic carpet ride that ended in one of the greatest games in baseball history—an 8–7 Cubs victory in 10 innings that ended a 108-year drought. According to Austin Karp of SportsBusiness Daily, Game 7 had an overnight rating of 25.2, the highest overnight for any World Series Game 7 since Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in 2001 (27.0). In Chicago, Game 7 registered a 51.2 rating and 71 share, the highest rating on record in the city; in Cleveland, it posted a 48.6 record and 69 share, according to Michael Mulvihill.
FS1 rode the Cubs to its biggest viewership totals since the start of the network, and the matchup of the Cubs and Indians fueled World Series ratings that were last seen a decade ago. The World Series averaged 20 million viewers through the first six games to rank as the most-watched World Series since 2004 (when 25.4 million viewers tuned in to see the Red Sox break their curse in a four-game sweep over the Cardinals) and the No. 1 program in all of television.
On the production end, Fox fielded its best combination of a game booth (Joe Buck and John Smoltz), studio show (Burkhardt, Pete Rose, Alex Rodriguez and Thomas) and field reporters (Ken Rosenthal and Tom Verducci) since it began airing the World Series in 1996. It’s worth noting the studio show—which has been praised by many outlets, including SI—has only been together since October.
There have been plenty of years where Fox saw a World Series sweep, so this year will be a financial boon given the company budgets the Series ad inventory off how long it went the previous year (for instance, five games for last year’s World Series). Bloomberg reported that Fox was charging more than $500,000 for a 30-second spot for Game 7, up from $400,000 for Game 6. Fox has been selling ads for Games 5, 6 and 7 as those games have been scheduled, so the money for this series will be immense, especially with extra innings in the final game.
With the baseball postseason concluding last night with one of the great games in the sport’s history, here are our final broadcasting grades for a memorable postseason.
• If you have watched TBS’ coverage of MLB over the years, Smoltz’s exceptional work during this postseason would not have come as a surprise. The rookie World Series analyst was prepared, erudite and tremendous at diagnosing both pitching and hitting approaches. Unlike Harold Reynolds, Smoltz lets a game breathe. Throughout the Series, he foreshadowed things to come. Most impressively: He said Indians outfielder Rajai Davis only shot of handling Aroldis Chapman in Game 7 was a pitch down and in; Davis clobbered a down and in pitch from Chapman for a two-run homer in the eighth inning to tie the game at six.
Buck has not been given the credit he’s due for being a terrific game broadcaster. He was exceptional again this series, and I particularly appreciated how in real time he recognized the great base running of Albert Almora Jr. in the top of the 10th inning. He and Smoltz have formed a great tandem. “Joe Buck has not had a ton of stuff written about him because of Smoltz and the pregame guys, but if you watched the game this month, you realize how good Joe Buck is,” Entz said. This duo (and Smoltz in particular) gets the highest grade of the postseason.
• Fox did something extraordinary during the postseason: They aired a studio show that crossed over into popular sporting culture the way College GameDay and Inside The NBA have for many years. In his second season with Fox, Rodriguez became an even bigger asset for the show given increased comfort level in front of the camera and his ability to play off Rose. He might be the best studio analyst in baseball already given his currency. Great sports studio television always has an air of what-will-he-or-she-say next, and this show has that with the odd coupling of Rose and Rodriguez, two of baseball’s most polarizing figures. Add a quality ego-free host in Burkhardt and Thomas being cool with Rose and Rodriguez generating the most heat, and it’s been a terrific formula. The production team of Bardia Shah-Rais, Jonathan Kaplan (who does the rundowns for the show) and Royce Dickerson deserves an immense amount of credit, too, because shows like this only work as well as the skill of the people behind the camera.
Can Fox continue this next year? Much of that will be determined by what Rodriguez wants. “I feel like they (all the analysts) have enjoyed this so much that I think that will be a draw to have them come back,” Entz said. “It’s 100% our intention to have them come back.”
• When a rookie analyst (Smoltz) works this well, you can bet that the lead producer (Pete Mascheska) has placed him or her in a position to succeed. The World Series production was tremendous, and Macheska and director John Moore did a terrific job.
• Airing the “Stand Up to Cancer” moment—with players, fans, umpires and Fox staffers holding placards with names of loved ones—is one of the best things we see in televised sports.
• FS1 experienced its best 10-day period ever. For the week ending Oct. 23, FS1 beat ESPN in primetime and led all cable in primetime viewership for the week with 4.235 million viewers.
• For The Wire fans: I thought this was the best tweet of the 2016 MLB postseason.
Where's Britton, String? Where's Britton?— David Simon (@AoDespair) October 5, 2016
• Fox Sports wisely jettisoned Erin Andrews as a field reporter for baseball reporters (Rosenthal and Verducci) who cover the sport full time. The result was impactful questions from the field, including Verducci asking Cubs manager Joe Maddon about his usage of Chapman in Game 6.
• Buck’s call of Rajai Davis’s game-tying homer in Game 7—and the subsequent reaction shots—were sensational.
• Fox’s Sounds of the Game segment isn’t always a winner, but the Game 7 conversation between Anthony Rizzo (going full ham) and David Ross (straight man) was tremendous. Fox having a mic on Ross proved huge when he homered in Game 7.
• TBS’s post-game show host Casey Stern led one of the more interesting discussions on why Baltimore manager Buck Showalter didn’t use reliever Zach Britton in the AL wild-card game.
• Buck’s call of the final out of the Series was not memorable, but it came at 12:48 a.m. after a long night. He smartly stayed out of the way afterward and let the pictures tell the story.
• TBS’ MLB game coverage during the postseason is always criticized on social media, and to be frank, it’s often deserving of such viewer criticism. For a network that does such great work with the NBA, it’s puzzling they can’t get baseball right. As I tweeted on Oct. 6, I’ve never seen more mentions on Twitter regarding the graphics of a sports broadcast than I did for TBS’ MLB graphics this postseason.
• A number of times in the Series, Fox nearly missed a pitch either coming back from break or showing fans in the stands.
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. Tony Gambino is not a sports media name you’d recognize, but he was responsible for one of the most memorable moments of Fox’s World Series coverage. A freelance camera operator who has worked the postseason for Fox since 2012, Gambino took the incredible camera shot of Chapman getting to first base before the Indians' Francisco Lindor in the seventh inning during Game 6. “Plays in baseball happen so fast, and we as cameramen try to see what’s happening on the field, react, frame it correctly, be in focus, all in a moment’s notice,” Gambino wrote via email from Cleveland. “I just saw what was happening on the field and knew the play would be at the bag. And I went for it.... Compared to other sports, baseball is the hardest to shoot because you have no idea what’s going to happen. Plays happen so fast. I knew if I could get to the bag before them, it would look great.”
Gambino said he was positioned next to the first camera operator on the first-base side of the field—Low 1st. According to Michael Davies, the senior vice president of field and technical operations for the Fox Sports Media Group, Gambino used a Vision Research “Phantom” v64 camera that shoots at 2,100 frames a second. Davies said the camera is from a small company in Jacksonville, Vermont, that provides specialty cameras for companies. He said he believed Fox is the only sports network to use the camera.
“Tony is the kind of guy who has really taken to the technology,” Davies said. “He is there at the right place at the right time. One of the things that you miss when you see a replay slowed down as much as that is that it really happens in the blink of an eye. Someone like him needs to be on the mark and in focus. [Former Fox Sports chairman] David Hill used to say the best live events look post-produced, and I think we have definitely gotten closer to that mark.”
Gambino said he heard from people on the crew after the game about his shot, which was gratifying. “As a cameraman, it’s always great to see your hard work pay off,” Gambino said. “Especially for key moments in sports. We try and give the viewer the best look possible. The umpires to a great job, but it’s gratifying knowing that call is correct because of our camera work.
But I would just like to say it’s a team effort. We are kind of like an orchestra. The camera people and the whole technical team are the musicians. Our director John Moore is the composer. Together, we want to put on a great show and one hell of a beautiful sound.”
2. Will this year’s postseason ratings augur better ratings next year for baseball? Here’s how Entz sees it: “I think the most important thing that will come put of this is people who maybe have not been as engaged with the game of baseball reconnect it. So, yeah, I think there will be a residual effect next year, but I don’t think the numbers will be what they are this year because there are so many variables.”
2a. The Indians' public relations staff said that more than 2,100 media personnel were credentialed for Game 7.
3. Episode 85 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features a roundtable sports media discussion with John Ourand, media reporter for the Sports Business Daily, and Jimmy Traina, writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback.
In the podcast, we discuss why NFL ratings have dropped this season and what it means for 2017 viewership; whether there is any validity to viewers protesting some players kneeling for the national anthem; what HBO will do with Bill Simmons’s Any Given Wednesday; ESPN’s declining subscribers and how much lower that number can go; whether FS1’s all-debate, all-the-time strategy will be successful; New York Times reporter Richard Sandomir leaving the sports media beat; the future for Mike Francesa and Mike Greenberg; the SI-Fox partnership; and much more.
4. Here’s Cubs announcer Pat Hughes and Indians announcer Tom Hamilton on calling the final out of the World Series.
5. Sporting News reporter Mike McCarthy reported that the NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger was suspended six months without pay for suggesting Eagles put a bounty on Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
5a. Showtime’s 60 Minutes Sports learned that, since 2011, 17 female students reported sexual or domestic assault charges against 19 Baylor football players.
5b. On Tuesday ESPN honored the late John Saunders at memorial service in Bristol, Conn.