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Baseball takes two from NFL

Lowly World Series wins back-to-back matchups

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / October 28, 2011

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Tony La Russa’s bizarre game of “telephone’’ during the eighth inning of Monday’s Game 5 might not be the most inexplicable development to come from this World Series, particularly if television ratings are taken into consideration.

Here’s the strange scenario: Entering last night’s Game 6, the Cardinals-Rangers matchup was on pace to become the lowest-rated World Series ever. Fox Sports’s coverage averaged an 8.3 national rating through five games, according to Nielsen. The World Series in 2008 (Rays-Phillies) and 2010 (Rangers-Giants) are tied for the lowest rating (8.4). But this year’s Series is expected to avoid a low-water mark because interest tends to peak as a series runs longer.

The disappointing numbers were jarring enough to have CNBC business reporter Darren Rovell take to Twitter with a poll asking why baseball has a ratings issue. (His options: “wrong teams,’’ “the broadcast team,’’ “not a baseball fan,’’ “too much competition,’’ and “late start times.’’)

Yet a funny thing happened along the way to declaring baseball passé as a sports television entity: Games 4 and 5 of the World Series routed prime-time NFL games on back-to-back nights.

Game 4 Sunday earned a 9.2 rating nationally, defeating NBC’s “Sunday Night Football’’ matchup between the Saints and Colts, which drew a 7.6. On Monday night, Game 5 - featuring La Russa’s telephone follies - finished with an 8.8. The Ravens-Jaguars “Monday Night Football’’ snoozefest on ESPN did a 5.8 overnight rating, a number so stunningly small by the usual standards that the league has asked Nielsen to check the numbers, believing a coding error may have resulted in inaccuracies.

Still, how does this happen? How does the World Series teeter on historically low ratings, and yet still beat the NFL - a perpetual Nielsen juggernaut - on back-to-back nights? A couple of the answers Rovell suggested make immediate sense. The fact that one NFL game was a blowout (the Saints beat the Colts by 55) and the other was dull (the Jaguars beat the Ravens, 12-7) probably turned some eyes toward what has been an enjoyable World Series.

Sports business analyst Maury Brown, founder of the respected Business of Sports Network, sees it as a combination of elements, one being that it takes time for the Rangers (from the fifth-largest market, Dallas) and Cardinals (from the 21st-largest market, St. Louis) to build national appeal.

“It doesn’t stem from one particular issue,’’ he said via e-mail. “National broadcasts have historically shown a steady diet of Red Sox and Yankees games, and that can influence interest across the country.

“Fans are looking for a compelling story, and while the Rangers are in the Series back-to-back, last season was the first time since ’99 they were in the playoffs. [Albert] Pujols and the Cardinals have a rich tradition, but they alone can’t push the needle after winning in 2006.’’

Brown said the reason the ratings have been small in recent years is one influenced by the cavalcade of choices television viewers have nowadays.

“Monday’s game was up against ‘Dancing With The Stars,’ ’’ he said of ABC’s ratings behemoth. “You throw in hundreds of cable channels, gaming, and the Internet, and it was set up to be low-rated.’’

As for beating the NFL on back-to-back days?

“Chalk it up to two stinkers,’’ he said. “You’re likely to rarely - if ever - going to see MLB trump the NFL on consecutive days in the ratings again.’’

In that context, those World Series numbers don’t look low after all.

Tee time, tweet time

For some of us, the idea of interactive golf is a rousing game of Golden Tee at the local beverage-and-wings establishment. The Golf Channel, however, is unveiling a more progressive and innovative way to involve fans, and it has nothing to do with a video game or anything else that might appeal to the majority of the Red Sox starting rotation.

During its coverage of the of the Nationwide Tour Championship tomorrow, the network will introduce “Social Media Saturday,’’ which will feature GolfChannel.com writers Rex Hoggard and Randy Mell contributing to the on-air coverage with live tweets from the event in Charleston, S.C.

Here’s the innovative part. During certain segments of the telecast, the traditional play-by-play commentary from the broadcast team of Jerry Foltz and Craig Perks will be replaced with Hoggard and Mell’s Twitter commentary over live pictures and sound. Extra parabolic microphones will be positioned throughout the course to pick up dialogue between the players and caddies. Viewers will be able to follow all of the tweets by visiting GolfChannel.com during the telecast or searching for #SocialSat on Twitter.

Whether it ultimately enhances the viewing experience, there’s no doubt it’s a creative way to generate interest in the network’s Nationwide coverage.

Perhaps it will generate enough favorable reaction that other networks try a similar approach. After all, following the World Series with fellow baseball fans on Twitter is already a more fulfilling experience than listening to Tim McCarver repeatedly make you wish Fox had kept Terry Francona around beyond the first two games of the American League Championship Series.

New man at NESN

Nearly three months after Jade McCarthy’s departure from NESN Daily, the network is set to introduce a new anchor/reporter to viewers of the nightly sports news and highlights program. Jamison Coyle comes to NESN from NBC affiliate KSNW in Wichita, Kan., where he was sports director since March 2010; he will debut in early November. It’s a homecoming for Coyle, a Nashua, N.H., native, so he probably doesn’t require the obligatory reminder to all newcomers to Boston sports media. But let’s give it to him anyway. Calling Boston “Beantown’’ or, worse, “The Bean’’ is the most obvious way to cement your status an outsider, other than perhaps wearing a name tag that says, “Hello, I’m new here and I don’t get you.’’

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.

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