Network could lose millions in ad sales

The World Series ended late Sunday with Boston’s four-game wipeout of Colorado, but Fox still averaged 17.1 million total viewers for the four contests, a solid 8% higher than last year’s five Series games.

That’s the good news.

The bad news: Three of the last four Series have resulted in sweeps; and the 2006 defeat of Detroit by St. Louis ended up only at five games.

Conventional wisdom says that if a Series goes fewer than six games, the network will lose tens of millions of dollars that Madison Avenue would’ve lavished on a Game Six and, particularly, a Game Seven.

Neal Pilson, sports consultant and former president of CBS Sports, said, “Fox pre-sold Game Five, so that means it will have to re-express as many as 60 spots worth about $400,000 a spot.”

That will come in the form of makegoods in other big-ticket Fox-produced sports events such as NFL games and BCS college football.

Fox found some compensation in the higher ratings overall this year. For the 11 post-season games carried by the network, including the World Series, Fox finished first in the Nielsens among 18-to 49-year-olds on nine of the nights.

And Fox averaged 13.6 million viewers for the 11 nights, a 25% gain over last year’s 21 postseason games. (Last year, Fox carried all of the divisional playoff games and both league championship series. This year, TBS shared the rights to the divisional games and one of the league-championship series as part of the cabler’s new seven-year baseball contract worth $1.05 billion.)

Fox, which ponied up $1.8 billion for its seven-year baseball deal (also kicking off this year), squeezed in a number of extra spots over the 11 games due to, among other things, extra-inning contests.

Primetime portion of Sunday’s 4-3 clincher for the Red Sox brought in 19.7 million viewers and a 6.6 rating/15 share in adults 18-49, per prelim Nielsen numbers. Game, which aired from roughly 8:30 p.m.-12:15 a.m. ET, outperformed last year’s Series-deciding Game 5 by more than 3 million viewers.

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