The World Series almost requires an anomaly to make broader audiences care.
Last year's World Series was a seven-game epic that featured the Chicago Cubs snapping a 108-year championship drought against a Cleveland Indians team that last won a title in 1948. That World Series drew an average of 22.8 million viewers per game on Fox -- the highest since the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals drew 25 million per game while the Sox snapped an 86-year championship drought in 2004. The more than 40 million viewers who watched Game 7 comprised the largest television audience for a World Series game since 1991. That average was higher than that of the NBA Finals (20.4 million viewers on average) and the NFL's regular-season lineup (16.5 million, including a the peak audience of 35.7 million for a Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving).
But that's a rare performance for the World Series. For example, the 2015 World Series -- the first won by the Kansas City Royals since 1985 -- managed to draw just 14.7 million viewers to Fox, on average. That's up from the average 13.8 million who watched the Royals lose to the San Francisco Giants in 2014 and far better than the average 12.7 million who tuned in to television's least-watched World Series of all time in 2012, but still a reminder that the World Series went 12 years without averaging an audience of 20 million or better.
To give you some idea of how far baseball has fallen, last year's Summer Olympics in Rio managed 27.5 million viewers on average during 15 days of coverage on NBC's web of stations. The Women's World Cup Final on Fox in 2015 drew about 23 million viewers. Before 2016, the World Series only hit that number twice in 20 years: -- for Game 7 in 2014 and in 2011. The 2014 World Cup final between Germany and Argentina drew more than 29 million viewers for ABC. The World Series hadn't drawn an audience that large since 2002 and hasn't averaged and audience that big since 1992.
Yet the World Series is a live sporting event, and networks will pay through the nose just for the chance to air it. In 2012, ESPN agreed pay MLB $700 million a year for eight years for both broadcast and digital rights to game broadcasts and for the right to broadcast one wild card game each year. Fox, meanwhile, is in year four of an eight-year deal that pays Major League Baseball $500 million per year for rights to regular season games, playoff games, the World Series and the All-Star Game. That "Fox" umbrella covers Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 as well. Baseball gave the rest of its national broadcasts to Turner in 2014 and will charge it $300 million each season for the next five years in exchange for playoff games.
That's a lot of cash to pay for an audience that's aging out of the sport. Three years ago, Nielsen put the average age of a World Series viewer at 54.4 and noted that audience age was trending upward. Two years ago, Nielsen found that 76% of Major League Baseball viewers are 35 or older -- with 50% of the total audience older than 55. While just about every youth sport is struggling, the loss of city ballfields and urban baseball programs has made baseball tough to access. In fact, youth baseball's participation numbers (5.6 million kids in 2012) have drifted below youth soccer (6.6 million) and basketball (6.95 million).
During the internet era, last year's World Series was still an anomaly. Ticket resale site SeatGeek put the average price of a ticket during last year's World Series at $2,302.The folks at eBay-owned ticket resale site StubHub, meanwhile, note that the highest average ticket price they've seen since 2001 was $1,825 for Game 1 between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals in 2004. Even a StubHub spokesperson notes that's likely inflated, as " StubHub was a very young company with not nearly as much inventory or sales" at the time.
In recent years, World Series ticket resale prices haven't been nearly that high. The 2015 World Series fetched the highest average price in a half decade... and still managed an average of roughly $886 per ticket. In fact, the most expensive World Series game during that span was still $600 per ticket short of Game 1 in 2004. With help from SeatGeek, here are the 25 most-expensive World Series games since 2010. While the Cubs-Indians series stands alone, this list should serve as a reminder of just how far away from the pack it is:
By the way, those sports collectibles you're keeping are probably worthless...
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