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All-California series a challenge for Fox

Posted: Wednesday, October 16, 2002

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Fox will chase World Series viewers with two surprising California teams and a manic monkey, but history casts doubt on the odds of TV ratings glory when the rest of the country is left out.

In 2000, Fox Sports' telecasts of the Yankees-Mets Subway Series produced the lowest-rated World Series ever. Another intrastate matchup, 1989's earthquake-interrupted Oakland-San Francisco series, also was among the lowest-rated ever.

''The network's got to hate this one,'' said media analyst Larry Gerbrandt of Paul Kagan Associates in Carmel, Calif.

But Gerbrandt says Fox does have reason to believe in the Anaheim-San Francisco matchup that starts Saturday. Others, particularly Fox Sports president Ed Goren, second that.

''If there is going to be a difference, it's about Cinderella and it's about the biggest name in the game right now, and that's Barry Bonds,'' Goren said, referring to San Francisco's home run king.

''Does that translate outside of California?'' Goren asked. ''From people who have been watching, people who have sampled the postseason, it's been infectious.''

Postseason ratings for the American and National league championships were up, representing the best numbers in three years. Overall, postseason baseball is up 5 percent over last year.

The ''Cinderella'' factor of unlikely World Series contenders is important, agreed Gerbrandt.

''You've got two wildcard teams, neither of whom anybody would have ever picked,'' he said.

The absent Yankees could add to the ratings, said some observers. The team played in five of the last six World Series, including four straight, and that leads to viewer fatigue, said analyst Stacey Lynn Koerner of Initiative Media in New York.

''It was the same when the (Atlanta) Braves were in it several years in a row,'' Koerner said.

Fox is working hard to maximize interest in a World Series between a first-time league champion, the Angels, and the more seasoned Giants.

''Our job is to reintroduce a whole new group of athletes to America and not assume because we did something on the Angels in divisional play there's no reason to do more,'' Goren said.

Spotlighting a player like Anaheim second baseman David Eckstein, who has struggled throughout his career because of his size, is an example.

The enthusiasm of both teams is a draw in itself, Goren said.

''I think there's just a very human, honest excitement here. These players seem to be so pure'' in their approach to the game,'' he said.

Even the Angels' most unlikely star, the rally monkey that pops up on the Anaheim scoreboard, is part of ''this festival of fun,'' he said.

Games 1 and 2 are at Anaheim Saturday and Sunday and will air at 4:30 p.m. PST. Games 3 through 5 are at San Francisco from Tuesday through Thursday and will start at 5 p.m. Games 6 and 7, if needed, would be in Anaheim on Oct. 26 and 27 and start at 4:30 p.m.

Sports industry analyst David Carter said Fox has to drum up interest in a California-only contest and downplay the relevance of ratings from past intrastate series.

''But all the lobbying and posturing is not going to mean anything when the players take the field,'' Carter said. ''There has to be a great level of competition or intriguing personal matchups that emerge.''

Fox knows how to promote such opportunities but ratings success is not an ''obvious slam dunk,'' Carter said, drawing on basketball for the metaphor.

Fox's Goren said he knows the uncertainty of the outcome.

''If I were in New York I'd be going to St. Patrick's, lighting candles for a seven-game series,'' he said. ''There are no experts here.''



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