To get to the World Series, you now have to go through Fox Sports.
Starting this season, Fox Sports becomes the exclusive home to all of Major League Baseball's post-season action and nearly all of the national pastime's regular-season games, as well.
Thanks to Rupert Murdoch's new six-year, $2.5 billion contract with Major League Baseball, Fox Sports will carry every All-Star Game, every playoff game and every World Series game from now through the 2006 season. Add in Fox Sports Net, which carries more than 2,000 regular-season games on its various regional channels across the country, Saturday-night coverage on FX, and a new Thursday-night game on Fox Family Channel, and it adds up to a seeming baseball monopoly. In fact, Fox Sports Net has the local cable rights to 26 of the league's 30 teams, with only Boston, Montreal, Toronto and San Diego outside its reach.
Fox Sports Television Group Chairman and CEO David Hill says the $2.5 billion bet on baseball will likely pay off, just as many of Fox's other sports contracts have over the past decade.
"You obviously don't do a deal if you don't think it's going to be very worthwhile to you at the end of the day," says Hill, who also orchestrated Fox's NFL and NASCAR deals. "It's always something that you have to look at over the totality of the contract. The way you go into a long-term contract is that you believe it's going to be worthwhile."
A major part of that worthiness is the ability to hype TV series during playoff games. "The playoffs are in a great time of the year, just prior to November sweeps, and they are really an ideal platform for the entertainment boys to launch their wares," says Hill. "Add in the fact that they rate and the country focuses on the sport alone during that time of the year, and we think it's an incredible property."
Ratings, however, tell a different story. Last year's World Series was the lowest-rated ever, as the hype of a New York subway series didn't sell outside Manhattan. Fox Sports' coverage of the World Series averaged only a 12.4 rating nationally, according to Nielsen Media Research. According to insiders, the result for Fox was a loss in ad revenue of $70 million. And Fox's coverage of the League Championship series dropped from a 9.2 rating in 1999 to a 6.2 rating.
The other potential bad news is the threat of a players strike at the end of the season. Of a potential strike, Hill says he is "spending a lot of time lighting candles and praying."
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