World Series ratings look for win while NFL stumbles

Major League Baseball has seen viewership surge during the postseason, and it’s looking for another win in the World Series at a time when the National Football League searches for answers to its ratings woes.

October baseball is scoring with TV viewers. The decisive Game 7 of the American League Championship Series between the New York Yankees and Houston Astros was the most-watched league championship telecast since 2010, according to FOX Sports. Overall, the ALCS averaged 6.52 million viewers, a 95% jump over last year. Combined viewership of the AL and NL championship series surged 25% to 5.93 million through the first six days, also the best mark in seven years.

Meanwhile, the NFL is grappling with a political storm over player protests during the national anthem, a controversy that some analysts have partly linked to a 5% decline in TV ratings. Credit Suisse has cut its earnings estimates for 21st Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOXA) and CBS (NYSE:CBS) as a result of the ratings drop.

Media experts say the NFL’s troubles won’t directly lead to an increase in fans watching the World Series. MLB has scheduled the first two World Series games in Los Angeles on Tuesday and Wednesday, avoiding a conflict with Thursday Night Football. A potential Game 5 of the World Series will overlap with the NFL’s Sunday evening matchup, but there will be no baseball on Monday night.

“I think people watch football for entirely different reasons than they watch baseball,” said Neal Pilson, president of Pilson Communications and former president of CBS Sports. “When they’re head-to-head, it has more to do with the quality of the games, teams and scores.”

Still, MLB seems poised for a strong run in the ratings book this week. The Los Angeles Dodgers play in the second-largest media market, according to Nielsen. Houston, home of the Astros, is the eighth-largest market. The World Series is expected to draw significant national interest as well. The Dodgers haven’t won a World Series since 1988, and the Astros have never won it. Star pitchers like Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander, along with young sluggers including Cody Bellinger and Jose Altuve, will also draw attention to the series.

Dr. Andrew Billings, director of the University of Alabama’s sports communication program, estimated that the World Series could average 17 million to 20 million viewers each game, depending on the length of the series. That would reflect an improvement over the 2015 World Series between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals, a matchup that averaged 14.5 million viewers for five games. Last year’s Fall Classic, the Chicago Cubs’ first title since 1908, is considered an outlier at 23.4 million viewers on average.

“Will we see Cubs numbers? No. But probably better than two years ago,” Billings said. “Even if you have a flat number at a time when every other type of programming is experiencing some erosion, that would be considered a success.”

Pilson also predicted ratings success for MLB and FOX, even though the Yankees were knocked out of the postseason with a loss in Game 7 of the ALCS.

“Just about every cable network is seeing lower ratings than in prior years. I don't think it’s anything specific to baseball. I think if they get six or seven games, the ratings will be good,” Pilson said, noting the tough comparison to TV ratings for the Cubs’ World Series run.

FOX Sports is a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox, the parent company of FOX Business.