Fox would have been happy to have the Cubs against anyone in the World Series, but the Indians’ victory over the Blue Jays in the ALCS has the network poised for a ratings bonanza – at least by the Fall Classic’s modest recent standards.
Particularly if the Series goes six or seven games, it could be the first since the Red Sox won in 2004 to average more than 20 million viewers.
The matchup of teams that have not won it all in a combined 176 years has captured the attention even of casual sports fans.
“I think what’s special about this World Series and why we have so many eyeballs is it really isn’t a baseball story or even a sports story, it’s an American story,” Fox analyst Alex Rodriguez said on a conference call to promote the Series.
“I have so many friends in so many walks of life in different parts of the country or the world who say, ‘I haven’t watched in over a decade, but I’m going to watch this one.’ I think a lot of people share that.
“This is pretty special. Being in that stadium and being in Wrigley Field [for the NLCS] and watching the people and watching kids, parents and grandparents cry . . . It was an awesome moment, it really was.”
Said fellow Fox analyst Pete Rose, “I think it’s a great matchup . . . Cleveland’s had a wonderful year. They’ve been at the top of the division the whole year. And the Cubs are probably the greatest story in baseball in many, many, many, many years, so that will help our ratings.
“A lot of people around the country are Cubs fans, more so than probably anybody else with the exception of maybe Yankee fans. The Cubs have millions of fans around the country and around the world and I think because of that baseball has a chance. Now, let’s have seven really good games and baseball will be in a big-time bounce-back mode.”
Rodriguez took that a step further, recalling a time when “baseball was the No. 1 sport in America and I feel, I’m not sure when, we’re going to be back to being No. 1 sometime soon.”
That seems unlikely, but the NFL has suffered ratings declines this season, so this World Series comes along at an opportune time.
“The story lines in this series are as much about the fans as the players, on both sides,” said John Entz, Fox’s president of production. “I think anybody who was there [at Wrigley Field] last weekend, to a person they were saying they never felt a vibe like that in their lives at a sporting event.
“It’s something rare that we don’t get to do every year, so we couldn’t be more excited about it. But it really is about the fans as much as the players.”
Some White Sox fans are annoyed with all the attention the Cubs are getting, as if Chicago had not been home to a World Series winner as recently as 2005. But Fox analyst Frank Thomas, one of the best players in White Sox history, said he is not conflicted.
“I would love to see [the Cubs] win it, I’ll be honest,” he said. “After listening about this curse for so long, it’s time for it to end.”
Said Rose, “No matter how many games the Yankees win, the Mets fans are never going to like them. It’s probably the same with the White Sox fans and the Cubs fans. Then you start rooting for city pride. If you’re from Chicago, I’m not going to tell the White Sox fans to root for the Cubs, because I don’t think I can tell the Mets fans to root for the Yankees or the Yankees fans to root for the Mets. Just root for a good baseball game.”
Like his colleagues, Rose was wowed by the atmosphere at Wrigley for the pennant clincher Saturday night.
“We’re going to the World Series now; that’s even going to jump up a couple of more decimal points on the scale,” he said. “Those fans in that town are ready for what’s about to happen, man. It’s not only exciting [Tuesday] night and the next night in Cleveland, but it’s going to be bonkers back in Chicago over the weekend, no question about it.”