Sure, it helps a TV network to have big-market, big-name teams meet for the championship, regardless of the sport. But ask any executive whether he or she would rather have a marquee matchup or a long, close series and the answer always will be the latter.
The 2014 World Series is no exception, even with the star-challenged, 31st-ranked-TV-market Kansas City Royals in the final against the San Francisco Giants.
"You really just hope for good games, night after night, good, tight games, and you get to that Game 6, you get to that Game 7, which will capture the whole country's attention," Fox Sports president Eric Shanks said Monday.
The trick will be introducing the broader audience for the Fall Classic to the relevant story lines, especially that of the Royals, while not annoying or boring those who have been watching since April, or at least late September.
"There are obviously more people under the tent now, and you have to treat it that way," play-by-play man Joe Buck said. "But you also have to walk a fine line of not insulting the core viewer . . . It's a juggling act."
Ratings for the World Series have been drifting downward since the Royals last were in it in 1985, and this year there is an added wrinkle in the quest for viewers.
In the past, Fox carried one of the League Championship Series, during which it ushered fans toward Fox for the World Series. This year, only one of the five NLCS games was shown on Fox, the rest on Fox Sports 1.
Shanks said he was pleased with fans' understanding and acceptance of the new schedule, including the ratings on the cable channel, which is in far fewer homes than Fox's broadcast outlet.
"Going into it we had hoped or had expectations that Fox Sports 1 would perform at the same rate hopefully that Turner broadcasts have done in the past, even though Turner is in 10 million more homes,'' Shanks said.
"The rate at which people found these games was actually higher than the rate at which they found games on Turner . . . I think we're really pleased at the position we're in, especially considering that it's Year One.''
Shanks noted a "significant number of viewers" probably hadn't watched Fox Sports 1 at all before it carried the LCS. Now they theoretically will be more familiar with it and its channel location moving forward.
Buck will be calling his 17th World Series, and his first without analyst Tim McCarver beside him. He and his new partners, Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci, joined Shanks on a pre-Series conference call and all concerned agreed the new three-man booth has been a success.
Shanks lauded the chemistry among them, which he said has been so good, it has inspired high-fives among Fox executives after games.
"You don't know until you get in there under fire, but it's worked out exactly as I had hoped," Buck said of the new booth. "It just could not have gone better for the first year."
Reynolds and Verducci both credited Buck with making it work. "He's driving this," Verducci said.
Reynolds said he and Verducci, who covered baseball for Newsday in the late 1980s and early 90s, have spoken about going from watching games near one another in press boxes to calling them on national television.
"For us to be able to do it on TV now is really cool," Reynolds said.
In the end, the Series will be judged more for what happens on the field than in the booth. The Fox announcers are cautiously optimistic the Giants and Royals will uphold their end.
"Even if you don't have a rooting interest," Verducci said, "it's infectious to see the way these two teams play baseball."
Erin Andrews and former Newsday sports intern Ken Rosenthal will work the Series as reporters. Former SNY Mets reporter Kevin Burkhardt will anchor Fox's pregame and postgame coverage on-site, featuring Nick Swisher, Gabe Kapler and Frank Thomas for all games and David Ortiz for Games 1 and 2.