The Los Angeles Dodgers have the highest payroll in baseball, the best pitcher over the past few years in all of MLB, fun international players, and young talent. The Houston Astros have a feel-good story about baseball coming alive during the recovery of a city. The team has an MVP candidate, an All-Star pitcher and an entertaining array of players. Houston and Los Angeles represent two of the four largest media markets in the United States. This should be a dream matchup for Fox and its executives. There’s one small problem: the east coast — the entire east coast — may not be interested.
For everything listed above about both teams, east coast markets lack a familiarity with the Astros and Dodgers. It’s simply a function of time zones. East coast baseball fans read more about Clayton Kershaw than they actually see him pitch in games on television. Cody Bellinger is set to get NL Rookie of the Year, and many baseball fans haven’t seen him hit a home run outside of highlights. This doesn’t even take into account casual fans on the east coast who probably don’t know much about the Dodgers in general — as in they couldn’t name more than two starters.
As for the Astros, they may be in a large market, they may be a team that has been on the rise for a bit, and they may have just beaten the Red Sox and the Yankees, but the Astros name doesn’t resonate with east coast viewers. Some casual fans may not even know the Astros changed from the National League to the American League and that was in 2013.
The east coast viewer may have moved on as well. The big name teams are out. The Boston market is worried about the Celtics and the Patriots. New York just had its World Series dream crushed and may take a baseball break. Philadelphia is focused on the Eagles. Chicago has the Bulls, Bears, and Blackhawks. Washington D.C. casual viewers may have left when the Nationals lost to the Cubs in the NLDS. Simply put, these major markets either just suffered baseball heartbreak or have other teams to focus on. The late-night starts, the lack of familiarity with teams, and the draw — or lack thereof — of the Astros to casual fans are all bad news for Fox.
Of course, a fun and entertaining series will draw everyone in. Ratings and viewership should increase if the games are close. Game 1 needs to have some type of flair or storyline for Fox to get the type of ratings it needs. The playoffs, up until now, have been doing great numbers. Baseball is back . . . until major markets lose their teams in dramatic fashion. Any short series or blowout in the early games would be the worst case scenario for Fox and their advertising partners.
Maybe there is no reason to fret. Maybe these World Series will continue on the current viewership hot streak. But, there has to be some concern that east coast viewership will have an effect on overall ratings. Of course, Houston and Los Angeles could fix that. The teams just need to make sure they play an ultra-competitive and entertaining series. That should be easy.