McGwire HR scores record ratings at Fox

Net bumps lineup of preems

Fox’s broadcast of Mark McGwire’s record-breaking 62nd home run Tuesday night delivered the best regular season numbers for a baseball game on network television in more than 16 years.

The brawny 12.9 rating, 21 share means a big payoff for Fox after the network made a daring late decision to broadcast the game and delay premiering its Tuesday sitcoms, “King of the Hill” and “Costello.” That switch wasn’t made until McGwire concluded Monday’s game with 61 homers for the season, tying him with Roger Maris for the all-time single-season record and setting up Tuesday’s game (originally scheduled for the FX cable service) as the potential record-breaker.

In retrospect, Fox Broadcasting Co. chairman/CEO David Hill said the scheduling decision wasn’t difficult at all.

“(It was) an absolute no-brainer,” Hill told Daily Variety on Wednesday, calling McGwire’s homer “a perfect moment” in sports and broadcasting history.

Hill said his Fox Sports team had been planning for the possibility of Tuesday’s game “for weeks,” with different video packages ready to run depending upon whether McGwire smashed the home run record.

“There were a hundred ways to screw things up (Tuesday), but the way the boys handled it was perfect,” Hill said, referring to Fox Sports’ on-air and behind-the-scenes talent.

The decision to sub the game for the premiere of the new Tuesday lineup also had a positive impact on Fox’s short-term bottom line. Industry insiders say the web collected between $6 million and $7 million in ad revenue for Tuesday’s game — more than offsetting any possible losses from make-goods given to advertisers who had bought time on the regular Fox lineup.

A typical 30-second spot on Tuesday’s game fetched about $100,000, insiders estimated.

Hill declined to discuss specifics about any revenue generated from Tuesday’s game, instead arguing that the real question is whether the web will make any money at all on baseball this season.

“Don’t look at this in isolation,” he cautioned. “It was a moment in time and we’re in this for the long haul. At the bottom of the 12th inning of Game 7 (of Fox’s broadcast of this year’s World Series), we might break even.”

McGwire’s record-breaking night earned higher numbers than last year’s World Series Game One (11.3/22) and came close to matching this past July’s All-Star game (13.3/25).

Still, the 12.9 rating falls well short of the national 22.3/36 earned 24 years ago when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record for homers in a career.

ESPN also set records with its Monday afternoon telecast of the St. Louis-Chicago game in which McGwire hit his record-tying 61st homer. ESPN clouted a 7.1/18 nationally and a 9.5 in its own universe.

That 9.5 shatters the previous ESPN baseball record of a 7.5, earned with the Sept. 6, 1995 game in which Baltimore’s Cal Ripken set the record for most consecutive games played.

Not surprisingly, the game did its best numbers in St. Louis, with a stratospheric 43.4/59 (including a 47.0/62 for the quarter-hour that included McGwire’s historic blast). Other top markets included: Cleveland (21.2/30), Miami (18.2/26) and Washington (17.9/27). New York gave the telecast a 13.5/20 and L.A. responded with a 14.9/28.

Superstation WGN also telecast the game, and earned a 20.6/33 in Chicago, where the Fox telecast was preempted. WGN’s figures aren’t included in Fox’s national average; if they had been, the web’s national rating would have been considerably higher.

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