The 113th edition of baseball’s World Series gets underway on Tuesday, with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros set to bring the curtain down on a post-season that has already proved a commercial boon for Major League Baseball (MLB).
The National League-winning Dodgers return to the Fall Classic for the first time in 29 years, their last appearance coming in 1988, when they beat the Oakland A’s for their sixth world championship. The Houston Astros, champions of the American League after overcoming the New York Yankees last Saturday, make their second World Series appearance, their only only previous run to the showpiece finale ending in a 4-0 defeat at the hands of the Chicago White Sox in 2005.
Ahead of game one at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, SportsPro provides the commercial lowdown for a big-market, star-studded affair.
A party spoiled?
“We know Major League Baseball wanted the Yankees and Dodgers,’’ Dallas Keuchel, the Astros pitcher, said after his team’s 4-0 game-seven victory over New York on Saturday. “There was no bones about it. We kind of spoiled the party for them. We’re happy to do that.’’
Keuchel was right - at least to some extent. Had the Yankees advanced over the Astros - for a moment it looked as though they might achieve an improbable comeback having turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead heading into Friday’s game six - MLB would have been revelling in the prospect of a glamour match-up. Facing off would have been two titans of baseball, a powerhouse duo with unmatched financial resources and sizeable international followings to boot.
Having met in the World Series 11 times, most recently back in 1981, the Dodgers and Yankees have history, but their rivalry extends far beyond the field of play. As baseball’s most successful team and most recognisable brand, the Yankees are among the most valuable franchises in all of sport, their current worth standing at some US$3.7 billion, according to Forbes’ most recent figures.
Meanwhile the Dodgers - who are valued by Forbes at US$2.75 billion, second in MLB - led the league in attendance for the fifth consecutive season in 2017, drawing more than 3.7 million people through their turnstiles at the 55,000-seater Dodger Stadium, MLB’s biggest ballpark, an average of 46,492 fans per game.
A Yankees-Dodgers World Series would have pitted MLB’s two highest payrolls against each other, something that hasn’t happened in the past four decades. Still, the commercial upshot of having two of America’s largest media markets involved, not to mention baseball’s two best-performing teams, is sizeable.
Already this off-season, MLB has seen teams from its four largest US media markets - Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Houston - advance to its two championship series. Together, those cities comprise 18.7 million television homes, the most ever for the penultimate round of post-season play, which this year has been a ratings hit.
Fruitful for Fox
For Fox Sports - the World Series broadcaster which has exclusively shown every edition since 2000, and whose current US$8 billion deal with MLB runs until 2021 - a Dodgers-Astros showdown is undoubtedly good news, even if a Dodgers-Yankees series would have been more of a needle-mover. The final ratings and viewership numbers will, as ever, depend on the competitiveness of the games, but whether or not records are broken the upcoming series concludes an impressive season for both Fox and MLB.
The Astros’ win over the Yankees on Saturday was the most-watched telecast in the four-year history of Fox Sports 1, with an average of 9.92 million viewers. Overall, this year’s post-season is the most-watched since 2011 across all networks, averaging 4.76 million viewers, up 13 per cent on 2016.
Nielsen Media figures show that of the league’s 29 US-based teams whose games are shown locally by Fox’s regional networks, 12 ranked number one in their market for prime time coverage this season. Last year, just nine clubs ended the regular season with the top ranking. On cable TV, all but four clubs ranked number one - and two of the teams that did not, the New York Mets and LA Angels, ranked second to their larger city baseball rivals.
Forbes reports that eight teams recorded year-to-year ratings increases in prime time, with seven teams up by double-digits. Across all games, MLB ratings on Fox Sports’ RSNs finished the regular season up five per cent over 2016.
For MLB, meanwhile, digital engagement through its At Bat mobile app has soared for this year’s post-season play. Overall, the app has been been accessed nearly 125 million times, up 16 per cent on 2016, and amassed nearly 850 million total minutes of consumption time, up six per cent, per Forbes.
The commercial buzz
Such is the level of excitement and anticipation heading into this year’s World Series, the price of tickets to game one at Dodger Stadium has been running to tens of thousands of dollars. On ticket resale sites, the average asking price was US$3,164 a ticket as of Friday, second only to the asking price for entry into last year’s games at Wrigley Field, home of eventual winners the Chicago Cubs.
That price has since dropped, largely as a result of the Yankees’ elimination, yet ESPN reports that this year is likely to be the highest-grossing World Series ticket for resale sites such as StubHub, whose league-wide ticketing deal with MLB expires at the end of the current season.
New York’s defeat to Houston means the upcoming series will not feature Aaron Judge, the Yankees slugger who finished the regular season with the best-selling jersey in baseball and the best-selling rookie jersey ever. Still, several of MLB’s biggest stars - including 13 players from the 2017 All-Star Game - will be taking to the field when the first World Series meeting between 100-win teams since 1970 gets underway.
The Dodgers’ status as early favourites is underpinned by the depth of their roster, which is packed with marketable talent including the always-entertaining Cuban right fielder Yasiel Puig (left), plus three players who featured behind Judge in the top 20 of MLB’s jersey sales list this season: pitcher Clayton Kershaw, shortstop Corey Seager, and first baseman Cody Bellinger.
Houston’s quest for a first championship - a quest that has taken on added significance for the city following the recent devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey - is led by the Astros’ star man Jose Altuve, the diminutive slugger and second baseman who posted the best batting average in the American League this regular season. He will be ably supported by the likes of Justin Verlander, the star pitcher the Astros prised from the Detroit Tigers at the end of August, and Carlos Correa, a 23-year-old shortstop whose star is on the rise.
Off the field, meanwhile, this year sees the arrival of the first-ever World Series presenting sponsor. In October, MLB struck a multi-faceted deal with YouTube TV, Google’s nascent live streaming service, that includes promotion across the league’s digital and social platforms, as well as in ballparks during games.
The two parties are also collaborating to create original, World Series-themed content featuring MLB players and popular YouTubers, and to run competitions offering fans the chance to win behind-the-scenes experiences.