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World Series Ratings in Big Slump

October 22, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ One NBC executive wanted a sweep, but it’s not going to happen.

So the network will have to send ``ER″ and ``Seinfeld″ to the bench and settle for ``Livan″ and ``Orel.″

``We’re looking for four and out,″ Don Ohlmeyer, president of NBC West Coast, said last week. ``Either way, that’s what we want. The faster it’s over with, the better it is.″

NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol has since apologized to baseball on Ohlmeyer’s behalf. But the comments are ringing more true as this year’s series is on pace to be the lowest rated to date.

Without a big media market such as New York or Los Angeles, or a team with a national following such as the Atlanta Braves, this year’s series has a 14.0 rating through three games, the lowest three-game rating ever.

Ohlmeyer said pre-empting the highly rated Thursday night shows hurts continuity at the network. But what he failed to point out is that even without the World Series last year, NBC did not show ``Seinfeld″ and showed a repeat of ``ER.″ And in nonsweeps months, NBC has no problem showing weeks of repeats in a row.

What Ohlmeyer also failed to mention is that the World Series has fared well the past two years against ``Must See TV.″ Fox’s Game 5 of the Yankees-Braves World Series drew 4 million more viewers than ``ER.″ The highest rated game in the 1995 series was also Game 5 played on, you guessed it, Thursday night.

Despite those numbers, there is some validity to what Ohlmeyer said, mostly because it costs so little to air a repeat.

``There is an element of truth to what Don said because of the amount of revenue they lose by pre-empting those shows,″ said Steve Grubbs of the BBDO ad agency. ``NBC gets more money for ads on an `ER’ repeat than it does for a World Series.″

While baseball may not be as lucrative for NBC as ``Must See TV″ _ its Thursday night lineup _ even a poor performing World Series is better for the network than any of its other nights. NBC’s highest rated entertainment show last week other than Thursday night was No. 29 ``Caroline in the City″ _ which drew 2.26 million fewer viewers than Game 1 of the World Series.

In any event, the World Series is no longer the ratings behemoth it once was. An event that drew 56 percent of the viewing audience as recently as 1980 is drawing 25 percent this year.

``Baseball lacks a strong appeal to the younger demographic,″ Grubbs said. ``Baseball’s core audience is dying and they are not regenerating it with younger fans.″

One reason baseball has trouble attracting young fans is that games drag on _ witness the 4-hour, 12-minute Game 3 that didn’t end until after 12:30 a.m. on the East Coast.

``Basketball and football are quickly paced games,″ Grubbs said. ``Baseball is a slow game that has gotten slower.″

Ebersol couldn’t agree more, saying the one thing baseball could do to improve ratings would be to ``move the game along quicker.″

``You all talk about the ratings of 25 years ago,″ he said. ``What happened to the strike zone of 25 years ago?″

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