World Series 2019 commercial preview: Will the Washington Nationals make their debut count?

As the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros prepare to bring the curtain down on another MLB season, SportsPro gives the commercial lowdown on this year’s World Series and two franchises who have trodden different paths to get here.

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A second World Series appearance in three years for the Houston Astros; a first in their history for the Washington Nationals. That, in a nutshell, is the tale of the tape as the 115th edition of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) champion-crowning, best-of-seven game series gets underway on Tuesday.

By most accounts, the Nationals were not supposed to get this far. After losing Bryce Harper, one of the league’s best and most marketable players, to the Philadelphia Phillies during the off-season, a record of 19 wins and 31 defeats in May left manager Dave Martinez on the cusp of losing his job. Now, after earning themselves a wildcard spot, toppling the Los Angeles Dodgers and steamrolling the St Louis Cardinals, the Nationals are on the brink of one of the more unlikely title triumphs.

Not that many are giving the Nationals much hope. The Astros, who won the World Series as recently as 2017, are looking to form a mini-dynasty of their own after Venezuelan José Altuve’s dramatic walk-off home run saw off the New York Yankees in game six of the American League Championship Series (ALCS) – and US betting operators are backing them to do just that. According to ESPN, Sunday saw Caesars Sportsbook put the Astros as -235 – or 43/100 – to beat the Nationals, making them the largest favourites since the Boston Red Sox were placed at -240 to emerge as champions over the Colorado Rockies back in 2007.

This might not be quite the same heavyweight showdown as last season’s matchup between the Dodgers and eventual winners the Red Sox, but nor is it a meeting of two MLB minnows. In fact, with a valuation of US$1.75 billion, the Nationals sit just one spot below the Astros (US$1.775 billion) in 11th on Forbes’ list of the league’s most valuable franchises.

This, then, is a series packed with narrative, and for one team in particular, the first pitch at Houston’s Minute Maid Park on Tuesday will bring to an end one of the longest waits in MLB.

José Altuve hits a walk-off home run to send the Astros to their second World Series in three years

86 years of hurt

“We’re in uncharted waters,” Mark Lerner, the managing principal owner of the Nationals, told members of the media ahead of his team’s series sweep of the Cardinals. “The Cardinals have been through it, the Dodgers have been through it, this is all new for everybody in this building. So it’s very special.”

Indeed, it has been 86 years since Washington DC last had a team in the World Series. Back then, in 1933, it was the Washington Senators, playing in the American League, who clinched the pennant before losing out to what is now San Francisco’s New York Giants. Since then, two professional baseball franchises have departed the US capital city before the Montreal Expos arrived from Canada in 2005. Even then, the Nationals’ post-season record to date has been defined by failure and near-misses.

However, DC now looks set to reap the rewards of having its home team reach the World Series. According to Destination DC, the city is in line for US$6.5 million in economic impact from the visit of the Astros, with more than 40,000 set to pack into Nationals Park and many more filling the surrounding hotels, bars and restaurants at least for games three and four.

“We are going to be welcoming business that we would not have without the World Series here,” Robin McClain, senior vice president of marketing and communications, told the WTOP radio station. “You can really feel the excitement throughout the city, whether you are watching with folks at local restaurants and bars or just walking down the street seeing all the Washington Nationals gear that people are wearing.”

The figure would apparently have touched US$8.8 million had MLB’s glamour franchise, the Yankees, been the Nationals’ opponents for the World Series, but it nevertheless comes as another welcome economic boost for a city that staged two Stanley Cup Final games only last year when the Washington Capitals won their first National Hockey League (NHL) title.

Irrespective of the opposition, if the Nationals can repeat the feat of their NHL neighbours and claim a first World Series, it would be a transformative feat for a franchise that has found success hard to come by, and recently has suffered the effects for doing so.

Nielsen figures cited by Forbes show that the Nationals’ local TV ratings on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network were down ten per cent during the 2019 regular season, while total attendance fell to its lowest figure since 2011. Meanwhile, the value of the team grew just four per cent from 2018 to 2019, while revenues have climbed modestly since 2015.

The Astros, in contrast, have been a team heading in the opposite direction, with ratings for their games on AT&T SportsNet Southwest up 15 per cent this campaign. In addition, the team’s annual revenue has climbed from US$175 million to US$368 million between 2015 and 2019, according to Forbes, while the value of the Texas franchise has also doubled in that time.

Washington DC has been waiting 86 years for the World Series to return

Will the series deliver for Fox?

This year’s World Series will be the first since US cable giant Fox Sports renewed its deal to remain the exclusive TV broadcast partner of the season-ending showpiece, agreeing to part ways with a cool US$5 billion to extend its relationship with MLB beyond 2022 and through 2028.

However, Fox will be hoping that the Astros and Nationals can deliver improved ratings on last year after the Red Sox 4-1 series win over the Dodgers delivered an average audience of 14.3 million viewers, which represented a dive of 23 per cent compared to the 2017 average of 18.7 million. That series, however, went the full seven games, and Fox will likely enjoy a ratings boon if the Astros put on a similar show to when they won the World Series two years ago.

The World Series will be competing for eyeballs with the start of the National Basketball Association (NBA) season, but Fox will at least take confidence from some of the audience figures the play-offs have produced so far. The Astros’ series-clinching win over the Yankees, for example, drew just under 7.5 million average viewers on Fox Sports 1 to rank as the most-watched programme on the channel since 2017 and the network’s fourth largest audience ever.

Generally speaking, MLB has seen improved TV ratings across the 2019 season, with the league’s three national partners – Fox, ESPN and TBS – enjoying increased viewership. Meanwhile, MLB also said the regional sports networks (RSNs) that broadcast local games rank number one in primetime on cable in 24 of the league’s 25 US markets.

If the drama itself isn’t enough to bring in viewers during the World Series, Fox is rolling out a host of broadcast enhancements after showing the ALCS in 4K HDR for the first time. The network’s coverage of the Astros-Nationals matchup will include dirt cams that provide a snails-eye view of the playing field, while the debut of the FlyCam system will capture sweeping shots from above the ballpark. Meanwhile, more than 30 cameras installed behind home plate will help to produce 4D replays.

Get ‘em while they’re hot

MLB’s total attendance for the 2019 regular season was a little under 68.5 million, marking a 1.7 per cent drop on the previous year and the league’s lowest recorded figure since 2003. However, as for any major league finals series, selling out stadiums won’t be much of an issue over the next week or so.

The Astros enjoyed steady attendances during the campaign, their own 35,276 average ranking ninth in the league. Anyone wanting to see game one of the World Series at Minute Maid Park, however, will have to fork out at least US$450 on secondary marketplace StubHub – and that is only for standing room. The highest ticket price spotted on the site was an eye-watering US$13,000.

The Nationals, meanwhile, started to draw more fans out of the woodwork after getting over their torrid start to the season, eventually drawing an average attendance of 27,898, ranking a modest 16th for the league. Now that the Nationals are the hottest ticket in town, however, it seems the team’s website is struggling to cope with the demand. Fans took to Twitter to complain that the team’s ticketing platform kept crashing and popping up with error codes during presales, while there were reports of others who queued for two hours only to find the game was sold out.

For those who did miss out, a quick look on StubHub shows that standing tickets for the Nationals first home World Series game can be purchased from US$695, while two tickets up for grabs behind the infield box have been priced at a scarcely believable US$25,000 each.

Minute Maid Park will host game one of the World Series on Tuesday

First time for everything

The World Series will bring to an end what has been a season of firsts for MLB.

After scaling back its relationship with Facebook, MLB broadcast 13 games exclusively on video-sharing website YouTube, claiming an average 1.2 million views. Also on the broadcast front, MLB conducted a test of Ultra Reality Viewing during a private screening of the play-off game between the Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays as part of the league’s new three-year partnership with Japanese technology giant NTT.

Meanwhile, at the end of June, MLB staged its first regular season games in Europe as the Yankees won a pair of fixtures against arch-rivals the Red Sox at West Ham United’s London Stadium. Further afield, plans were revealed for the league’s first Indian office in New Delhi as part of efforts to encourage the country’s avid cricket fanbase to take up baseball. On home soil, meanwhile, hospitality, sales and experiential agency Legends has been enlisted to operate MLB’s first permanent US retail location in New York City, which is due to open next summer.

With all of that and much more now in the record books, the Nationals will be hoping the 2019 season still has room to accommodate their first World Series title.

A second World Series appearance in three years for the Houston Astros; a first in their history for the Washington Nationals. That, in a nutshell, is the tale of the tape as the 115th edition of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) champion-crowning, best-of-seven game series gets underway on Tuesday.

By most accounts, the Nationals were not supposed to get this far. After losing Bryce Harper, one of the league’s best and most marketable players, to the Philadelphia Phillies during the off-season, a record of 19 wins and 31 defeats in May left manager Dave Martinez on the cusp of losing his job. Now, after earning themselves a wildcard spot, toppling the Los Angeles Dodgers and steamrolling the St Louis Cardinals, the Nationals are on the brink of one of the more unlikely title triumphs.

Not that many are giving the Nationals much hope. The Astros, who won the World Series as recently as 2017, are looking to form a mini-dynasty of their own after Venezuelan José Altuve’s dramatic walk-off home run saw off the New York Yankees in game six of the American League Championship Series (ALCS) – and US betting operators are backing them to do just that. According to ESPN, Sunday saw Caesars Sportsbook put the Astros as -235 – or 43/100 – to beat the Nationals, making them the largest favourites since the Boston Red Sox were placed at -240 to emerge as champions over the Colorado Rockies back in 2007.

This might not be quite the same heavyweight showdown as last season’s matchup between the Dodgers and eventual winners the Red Sox, but nor is it a meeting of two MLB minnows. In fact, with a valuation of US$1.75 billion, the Nationals sit just one spot below the Astros (US$1.775 billion) in 11th on Forbes’ list of the league’s most valuable franchises.

This, then, is a series packed with narrative, and for one team in particular, the first pitch at Houston’s Minute Maid Park on Tuesday will bring to an end one of the longest waits in MLB.

86 years of hurt

“We’re in uncharted waters,” Mark Lerner, the managing principal owner of the Nationals, told members of the media ahead of his team’s series sweep of the Cardinals. “The Cardinals have been through it, the Dodgers have been through it, this is all new for everybody in this building. So it’s very special.”

Indeed, it has been 86 years since Washington DC last had a team in the World Series. Back then, in 1933, it was the Washington Senators, playing in the American League, who clinched the pennant before losing out to what is now San Francisco’s New York Giants. Since then, two professional baseball franchises have departed the US capital city before the Montreal Expos arrived from Canada in 2005. Even then, the Nationals’ post-season record to date has been defined by failure and near-misses.

However, DC now looks set to reap the rewards of having its home team reach the World Series. According to Destination DC, the city is in line for US$6.5 million in economic impact from the visit of the Astros, with more than 40,000 set to pack into Nationals Park and many more filling the surrounding hotels, bars and restaurants at least for games three and four.

“We are going to be welcoming business that we would not have without the World Series here,” Robin McClain, senior vice president of marketing and communications, told the WTOP radio station. “You can really feel the excitement throughout the city, whether you are watching with folks at local restaurants and bars or just walking down the street seeing all the Washington Nationals gear that people are wearing.”

The figure would apparently have touched US$8.8 million had MLB’s glamour franchise, the Yankees, been the Nationals’ opponents for the World Series, but it nevertheless comes as another welcome economic boost for a city that staged two Stanley Cup Final games only last year when the Washington Capitals won their first National Hockey League (NHL) title.

Irrespective of the opposition, if the Nationals can repeat the feat of their NHL neighbours and claim a first World Series, it would be a transformative feat for a franchise that has found success hard to come by, and recently has suffered the effects for doing so.

Nielsen figures cited by Forbes show that the Nationals’ local TV ratings on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network were down ten per cent during the 2019 regular season, while total attendance fell to its lowest figure since 2011. Meanwhile, the value of the team grew just four per cent from 2018 to 2019, while revenues have climbed modestly since 2015.

The Astros, in contrast, have been a team heading in the opposite direction, with ratings for their games on AT&T SportsNet Southwest up 15 per cent this campaign. In addition, the team’s annual revenue has climbed from US$175 million to US$368 million between 2015 and 2019, according to Forbes, while the value of the Texas franchise has also doubled in that time. 

Will the series deliver for Fox?

This year’s World Series will be the first since US cable giant Fox Sports renewed its deal to remain the exclusive TV broadcast partner of the season-ending showpiece, agreeing to part ways with a cool US$5 billion to extend its relationship with MLB beyond 2022 and through 2028.

However, Fox will be hoping that the Astros and Nationals can deliver improved ratings on last year after the Red Sox 4-1 series win over the Dodgers delivered an average audience of 14.3 million viewers, which represented a dive of 23 per cent compared to the 2017 average of 18.7 million. That series, however, went the full seven games, and Fox will likely enjoy a ratings boon if the Astros put on a similar show to when they won the World Series two years ago.

The World Series will be competing for eyeballs with the start of the National Basketball Association (NBA) season, but Fox will at least take confidence from some of the audience figures the play-offs have produced so far. The Astros’ series-clinching win over the Yankees, for example, drew just under 7.5 million average viewers on Fox Sports 1 to rank as the most-watched programme on the channel since 2017 and the network’s fourth largest audience ever.

Generally speaking, MLB has seen improved TV ratings across the 2019 season, with the league’s three national partners – Fox, ESPN and TBS – enjoying increased viewership. Meanwhile, MLB also said the regional sports networks (RSNs) that broadcast local games rank number one in primetime on cable in 24 of the league’s 25 US markets.

If the drama itself isn’t enough to bring in viewers during the World Series, Fox is rolling out a host of broadcast enhancements after showing the ALCS in 4K HDR for the first time. The network’s coverage of the Astros-Nationals matchup will include dirt cams that provide a snails-eye view of the playing field, while the debut of the FlyCam system will capture sweeping shots from above the ballpark. Meanwhile, more than 30 cameras installed behind home plate will help to produce 4D replays.

Get ‘em while they’re hot

MLB’s total attendance for the 2019 regular season was a little under 68.5 million, marking a 1.7 per cent drop on the previous year and the league’s lowest recorded figure since 2003. However, as for any major league finals series, selling out stadiums won’t be much of an issue over the next week or so.

The Astros enjoyed steady attendances during the campaign, their own 35,276 average ranking ninth in the league. Anyone wanting to see game one of the World Series at Minute Maid Park, however, will have to fork out at least US$450 on secondary marketplace StubHub – and that is only for standing room. The highest ticket price spotted on the site was an eye-watering US$13,000.

The Nationals, meanwhile, started to draw more fans out of the woodwork after getting over their torrid start to the season, eventually drawing an average attendance of 27,898, ranking a modest 16th for the league. Now that the Nationals are the hottest ticket in town, however, it seems the team’s website is struggling to cope with the demand. Fans took to Twitter to complain that the team’s ticketing platform kept crashing and popping up with error codes during presales, while there were reports of others who queued for two hours only to find the game was sold out.

For those who did miss out, a quick look on StubHub shows that standing tickets for the Nationals first home World Series game can be purchased from US$695, while two tickets up for grabs behind the infield box have been priced at a scarcely believable US$25,000 each.

First time for everything

The World Series will bring to an end what has been a season of firsts for MLB.

After scaling back its relationship with Facebook, MLB broadcast 13 games exclusively on video-sharing website YouTube, claiming an average 1.2 million views. Also on the broadcast front, MLB conducted a test of Ultra Reality Viewing during a private screening of the play-off game between the Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays as part of the league’s new three-year partnership with Japanese technology giant NTT.

Meanwhile, at the end of June, MLB staged its first regular season games in Europe as the Yankees won a pair of fixtures against arch-rivals the Red Sox at West Ham United’s London Stadium. Further afield, plans were revealed for the league’s first Indian office in New Delhi as part of efforts to encourage the country’s avid cricket fanbase to take up baseball. On home soil, meanwhile, hospitality, sales and experiential agency Legends has been enlisted to operate MLB’s first permanent US retail location in New York City, which is due to open next summer.

With all of that and much more now in the record books, the Nationals will be hoping the 2019 season still has room to accommodate their first World Series title.

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