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Baseball's World Series Has A TV Problem


From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

The World Series takes a break tonight while the teams change cities. Last night at Fenway Park in Boston, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Red Sox to even the best of seven series at one game each. The venue switches to Busch Stadium in St. Louis for the next three games, starting tomorrow. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now, as he does most Fridays. Hey, there, Stefan.


CORNISH: So Boston beats St. Louis in game one on Wednesday, but the Cardinals bounced backed last night, right? I mean, winning by a score of 4-2. What changed?

FATSIS: Well, in game one, St. Louis made the sorts of errors that you normally see in Little League. Last night it was Boston's turn. The Red Sox committed two errors on the same play in the seventh inning, which turned a 2-1 lead into a 3-2 deficit. And then there was the Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha. He is the story of the post-season so far. Wacha has started four times, won four times, given up just three earned runs in 27 innings. He's just 22 years old, a rookie. A year and a half ago, he was pitching in college at Texas A&M.

CORNISH: So how did he get so good, so fast?

FATSIS: You know, sometimes this just happens. Wacha was the 19th pick of 2012 draft. It wasn't like he was unknown. He pitched just 73 innings, though, in the minor leagues before he was called up to the Cardinals. It's obvious he had the right stuff. He throws 95 miles per hour on his fastball, but he complements that with this killer change-up - it looks to a batter like a fastball but then it comes in at 10 to 12 miles per hour slower.

The very patient Red Sox hitters made Michael Wacha work hard last night, but except for one pitch that David Ortiz hit over the Green Monster. He didn't falter. And the two relief pitchers who succeeded him - Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, who incredibly are also rookies - they were outstanding. On to St. Louis we go.

CORNISH: Now, if you don't mind, I want to talk about World Series and television for a second. Last year's ratings were the worst of all time. How's it going this year?

FATSIS: Well, Boston and St. Louis have big fan bases. They're historic franchises that casual fans might want to watch. So it's not a surprise that the audience is up. Fourteen million people watched game one on Fox, almost 13 million watched game two. Those are up from last year. But consider that an average of 44 million people watched the World Series games in 1978, and also that more people watched an absolute stinker of a Monday Night Football game this week as they did game two of the World Series.

So what is it? The overall diffusion of the culture, proliferation of other sports and non-sports on television, but it's also football's hegemony. It's a once a week sport. It's destination viewing. It rules the airwaves.

CORNISH: And maybe it's just more appealing to younger sports fans, right? I mean, faster pace, more concentrated action.

FATSIS: Yeah. There definitely might be something to that, Audie. Cultural tastes change over time. The median age of the World Series audience keeps rising. As Jonathan Mahler points out on Bloomberg View this week, the average age of the World Series watcher was 53.4 last year. The average age of the NBA Finals audience was 41. The average age of regular season NFL games is 45. Baseball is about as well attended as it's ever been. It's never been more profitable. But the demographic trends should be of concerning to the sport's executives because who and how many people are watching, that matters a lot to advertisers.

CORNISH: And sticking with television, this will be the final World Series for a broadcaster who's been a fixture since the 1980s, Tim McCarver.

FATSIS: Yeah. McCarver, a former Major League catcher, he's 72 years old now. This is his 24th World Series. He'll be remembered for his knowledge, his preparation and his sixth sense in the booth. The best example of that is when he anticipated exactly what would happen on the final play of the 2001 World Series - a broken bat hit off of Mariano Rivera that scored the winning run for Arizona to give them the World Series over the Yankees.

But McCarver also has had his share of critics who think he talks too much, has a weakness for stating the obvious. It'll be interesting to see whether Fox replaces him with someone who's a lot younger to try to help shift that demographic trend that we were just talking about.

CORNISH: Stefan Fatsis, he joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. Stefan, thanks.

FATSIS: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.