Game faces strong summertime competish

Major League Baseball is on a roll this year, showing big gains in Nielsen ratings on regional sports networks and solid increases in attendance at the ballparks. But will this regular-season momentum carry over into Tuesday’s All-Star Game on Fox?

Game could run afoul of unusually strong summer primetime competition from such shows as CBS’ “Big Brother 5” and “Amazing Race 5”; ABC original docu “NYPD 24/7”; a firstrun hour of the FX hit “Nip/Tuck”; and a one-hour special of outtakes from the just-concluded, most-watched season of MTV’s “Real World” from San Diego.

“In a world where breakeven is a victory, I hope the All-Star Game will at least break even next Tuesday,” said Ed Goren, president of Fox Sports, in a conference call with reporters.

Goren said his hopes are high that lots of people will gravitate to the game because of the new rule that gives home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the midseason match.

With last year’s game, the first under the new rule, Goren said that “for the first time I can remember, the rating for the last half of the game ended up higher than the first part of the game. With something important on the line, people stayed tuned.”

The rating of the All-Star Game plunged to an all-time low in 2002, averaging only a 9.2 in households. Game has entered the hall of shame because baseball commissioner Bud Selig stopped it in extra innings, calling the contest a tie when the managers were about to use up all of the pitchers at their disposal.

In 2003, the rating inched up to a 9.5 in households, but among men 18-34, it dropped from a 6.2 in 2002 to a 5.6; for men 18-49, the slippage was from 6.9 to 6.6.

One innovation touted by Goren this year are three lipstick-sized cameras installed last month on the field at Minute Maid Park in Houston that will provide what he calls the closest, most intimate look ever at the pitcher and batter.

Joe Buck and Tim McCarver will call the game for Fox. It’s McCarver’s 13th, tying him with Curt Gowdy and Joe Garagiola for most All-Star Game assignments.

Jeanne Zelasko and Kevin Kennedy will host the pre- and postgame activities and do field reporting throughout the game. Pete Macheska is lead producer, and Bill Webb is the director.

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