When the sixth seed wins the National League pennant after an 87-75 regular-season run, it’s safe to assume that the ensuing World Series is likely to get a little weird. Toss in a labor dispute that delayed the start of baseball’s spring slate and a cold front that soaked the Lehigh Valley on Halloween night, and all the ingredients are in place for a schizoid conclusion to the Fall Classic.
Monday’s rainout of Game 3 puts the Phillies-Astros series on a collision course with the NFL, and while there’s never any advantage in going head-to-head with Roger Goodell’s juggernaut, the looming Thursday night conflict should create all sorts of chaos within the two local markets. In what amounts to an unprecedented coincidence, Game 5 of the World Series on Fox will get underway as Amazon Prime Video’s Thursday Night Football coverage of Eagles-Texans kicks off down in NRG Stadium.
In other words, fans in Philly and Houston will be rattling the Nielsen dials all night as they drift between baseball and football. Fox would seem to have the upper hand in the Philadelphia DMA, as the hometown nine look to secure their first title in 14 years, although as the NFL’s second-biggest local draw, the 7-0 Eagles may fly high during the Game 5 ad breaks. (The Birds trail only the hated Cowboys in terms of home-market TV impressions.)
Through the first two games of the Phillies-Astros series, 53% of all TVs in use in the No. 4 Philly market at the time were tuned to Fox affiliate WTXF, which thus far has averaged a 23.3 rating, or just shy of 700,000 households. Meanwhile, some 740,000 households this season have tuned into Channel 29’s Eagles feed. In lieu of a WTXF simulcast of Thursday night’s Eagles-Texans broadcast, local fans can find the NFL action over on the MyNetworkTV affiliate WPHL.
Philly’s overstimulated fan base will catch somewhat of a break Thursday, as both the 76ers and the Flyers have the night off.
In Houston, fans on Thursday night can pivot between the Astros on local Fox station KRIV and the Texans on KTXH, which is also a MyNetworkTV affiliate. It’s unlikely that Fox will lose much ground in the No. 8 market, as the 1-5-1 Texans are the NFL’s 10th least-watched local franchise. Through the first two frames of the World Series, KRIV is averaging a 22.6 rating, which works out to around 580,000 households.
All told, the World Series on Fox is averaging 11.2 million viewers, up 4% versus the year-ago period.
In a bid to avoid NFL conflict, MLB took the unorthodox step of launching this year’s World Series on a Friday night; baseball would have faced just one tie-up—Monday night—with the ratings-devouring colossus. Thanks to Monday’s Game 3 rainout, the league is staring down two clashes with football, and will endure a third if the Astros force a seventh frame.
Should Houston manage to extract itself from the 215 area code with a win, Game 6 is scheduled for Saturday night at Minute Maid Park. For national audiences, the biggest potential distractions from baseball are NBC’s primetime coverage of Clemson-Notre Dame and ABC’s Saturday Night Football (Florida State-Miami).
If a Game 7 is in the cards, Fox will square off against NBC’s Sunday Night Football matchup, which features the NFL’s fifth-biggest national TV attraction (Kansas City) hosting the 5-2 Tennessee Titans. Years ago, a Sunday night World Series finale wouldn’t have been cause for concern, as the NFL’s primetime presence was limited to the Monday night game on ABC. For example, Game 7 of the 1987 World Series fell on a Sunday, and the Twins’ 4-2 victory over the Cardinals averaged 51.2 million viewers. Four years later, the instant classic that was Jack Morris vs. John Smoltz scared up 50.3 million viewers on a long-ago Sunday night on CBS.
More recently, 39.1 million Fox viewers watched the conclusion of the 2001 World Series, which effectively marked the end of the Yankees’ dominance over the league. While Arizona’s 3-2 triumph aired against ESPN’s Sunday Night Football, that Jets-Saints outing drew an all-time low of just 2.9 million viewers.
But Luis Gonzalez’s bloop walk-off was 21 years ago, and the TV landscape has changed irrevocably since then. The late-afternoon NFL games on Fox and CBS are currently averaging 24.2 million viewers, and NBC’s primetime Sunday night showcase is drawing 20 million when you factor in the digital impressions. Baseball’s biggest regular-season game, an Aaron Judge-boosted Red Sox-Yankees outing that aired on Sept. 22, averaged 3.23 million viewers on Fox. MLB wanted no part of the looming NFL mash-up, but the weather had other ideas.
In the meantime, there’s no telling how this bonkers World Series will play out, especially after the five-homer, 7-0 beatdown the Phillies handed out to the Astros on Tuesday night. The team that got hot just at the right time now looks like a colossus, but the guys in the other dugout are the same bunch who collected 106 wins in the regular season. If Houston can bring it all back home, Game 6 will mark the latest-scheduled game in MLB history, a condition brought about by baseball’s 99-day spring lockout and the expansion of the wild-card round.
If baseball should crown its latest Mr. November on the night of the 6th, yet another NFL conflict awaits. And the cycle begins all over again, as the 2023 regular-season slate is set to end on a Sunday—just as it did this year. Time is a flat circle; pitchers and catchers are due to report for spring training on Valentine’s Day, exactly 100 days from Sunday night.