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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Oct. 25, 2012
Average ticket price $756
Nobody outside of these two cities cared about this series. Nobody. Nobody watched this thing on television, nobody really wanted to pay all that much to see it (average resale price was $615, which is about $200 lower than that of the last three World Series) and this game in particular wasn't all that much to watch. Madison Bumgarner did what he does -- gave up two hits and no runs over eight innings -- and with the exception of a great throw-out of Prince Fielder at home plate in the second inning, the Tigers didn't offer a whole lot of offensive fireworks. This one was over in four games, but it felt much longer.
Oct. 26, 2013
Average ticket price $768
A controversial gem of a game. Tied 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth, with the Cardinals' Allen Craig on second base and Yadier Molina at third, Jon Jay hit a quick grounder to the Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia that set of an incredible series of events. Pedroia threw home and got Molina, but when catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tried to get Craig at third, his throw arrived just as Craig was sliding into third baseman Will Middlebrooks. The ball bounced off into foul territory and Craig made for home, but tripped over Middlebrooks. The third base umpire said Middlebrooks was obstructing the base bath and the home plate umpire said Craig would have scored if he hadn't been obstructed. The run counted, but the baseball gods were angry.
Oct. 23, 2011
Average ticket price $782
A two-hit shutout from Derek Holland and a three-run home run from Mike Napoli sealed this one for the Rangers and made it clear that nothing about this series would come easily. Fans had no idea what was coming next.
Oct. 30, 2010
Average ticket price $810
If you liked home runs, you loved this game. Every run in this 4-2 Texas win came off of home runs, with Mitch Moreland's three-run shot in the second being all the Rangers would need for the win. It was the first World Series game won by a Texas team, but the Rangers couldn't scrape together enough of them in this series.
Oct. 24, 2013
Average ticket price $810
A two-run home run by David Ortiz in the sixth inning gave the Sox a 2-1 lead and some momentum going into the late innings. That all derailed in the seventh, when the combined ineptitude of Sox pitcher Craig Breslow and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia handed the Cardinals three runs and a win in Boston. Ugly.
Oct. 22, 2014
Average ticket price $824
In a postseason flooded with Kansas City comebacks, this one was exactly what the Royals needed to keep the home crowd in it. With the score tied 2-2, the Royals went into the bottom of the fifth inning and put up five runs, jawed at the Giants and announced to the world that they belonged. The Giants were going to take this series, but not easily.
Oct. 28, 2010
Average ticket price $833
Giants pitcher Matt Cain pitched 21 and 1/3 innings in this series and gave up no runs. However, the nearly eight innings he pitched in this game are less of a story than the one inning that Rangers starter C.J. Wilson didn't pitch. This game would have been a serviceable 2-0 loss if not for the Rangers bullpen letting up 7 runs in the eighth inning and handing the Giants a 9-0 win. In Texas, the pain was just beginning.
Oct. 22, 2011
Average ticket price $848
Naturally, a 16-7 game is going to be remembered for its offense. However, it's Cardinals' slugger Albert Pujols's three home runs in this game -- and six RBI -- that stand out. This game still haunts the nightmares of Rangers fans, who watched their team put up seven runs in a game that stopped being close after the fifth inning.
Nov. 1, 2015
Average ticket price $854
This series is going to come up a lot on this list, but the only reason this number is even this low is because the Royals pretty much had things in hand going into City Field that night. Never mind the Tony Bennett anthem or Darryl Strawberry, Mookie Wilson and Cleon Jones throwing out the first pitch -- the '86 Mets weren't about to get a successor, though they'd go down with a fight. Down 3-1 in the series, the Mets led 2-0 going into the ninth inning and stuck with ace Matt Harvey. Mets fan know what happened next: Harvey gave up a run, the Jeruys Familia gave up a run and fans agony was prolonged into extra innings. By the time the Royals scored 5 in the 12th inning, it just felt as if it was time to let the Mets go peacefully.
Oct. 26, 2014
Average ticket price $861
It'll be a lot easier if we just say "Madison Bumgarner came in and allowed no runs" every time he's featured on this list, but his complete-game, 5-0, four-hit shutout deserves some love here. When the only "trouble" you get into is putting a runner on second when you're already up 2-0 in the fifth, that's just dominant.
Oct. 21, 2014
Average ticket price $871
O.K., so Madison Bumgarner came in, allowed only four hits and just ONE run (a solo home run in the seventh inning). He had a 7-0 lead at the time and got a 7-1 win. However, that snapped Bumgarner's streak of 21 scoreless innings. That would give the Royals no comfort as this series progressed.
Oct. 24, 2014
Average ticket price $890
Despite having a ridiculously efficient career in Oakland and being a strong pitcher in Atlanta, the Giants' Tim Hudson got his first World Series start in this game. Sadly, after giving up three runs and getting little help from his offense, he'd come out of this one with a 3-2 loss.
Oct. 27, 2010
Average ticket price $944
This was the Giants' first World Series since losing in 2002. Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum went up against Texas' own Cy Young winner, Cliff Lee, and the two ended up allowing 11 runs combined. Giants took this one 11-7, but 25 hits and three-run outbursts in both the eighth and ninth inning set quite a tone in what was supposed to be a defensive series.
Oct. 29, 2014
Average ticket price $994
We've mentioned Madison Bumgarner a lot in this list, but what he did after the Giants took a 3-2 lead in the fourth was outright legendary. Coming into the game in the fifth inning as a reliever, Bumgarner gave up one single before retiring 14 consecutive batters. He was originally credited with the win in this game, but scorers overturned it. Given what fans remember of this game, it wouldn't have been such an egregious error. This was Bumgarner's series from beginning to end.
Oct. 25, 2014
Average ticket price $994
Ouch. A combined 28 hits, 15 runs and a blowout 11-4 win for the Giants in a game the Royals had once led 4-1 wasn't pretty. However, with the Giants hitting singles for 13 out of their 16 hits and spreading RBI around to 11 different players, it was a great night to be a Giants hitting coach.
Oct. 31, 2015
Average ticket price $1,003
How do you blow a 3-2 lead and two home runs by Michael Conforto? Be the Mets. Daniel Murphy, thus far the Mets playoff hero, committed an error that allowed the tying run to score in the eighth. Then Jeurys Familia let up another two runs that inning to earn himself yet another blown save in the series. As if to just taunt Mets fans even further, Lucas Duda came up with one out and two runners on in the ninth and the Mets down 5-3. Instead of coming away with even one run, however, he hit into a double play that made this series look all but over.
Oct. 30, 2013
Average ticket price $1,177
The Sox never left this one in doubt, scoring six runs early, forcing the Cardinals to walk series MVP David Ortiz four times and paving the way for the first World Series clinched at Fenway Park since 1918. It was a tough consolation prize for all that Boston had been through to that point, but one the city gladly accepted.
Oct. 26, 2016
Average ticket price $1,187
It's difficult to call any game in this series "underpriced," and fans certainly couldn't have known the outcome ahead of time, but this was the Cubs' first win in a World Series since 1945. It was convincing. Ben Zobrist began his march to World Series MVP with two runs batted in, Cubs ace pitcher Jake Arrieta held a no-hitter through the fifth inning before giving up the only Cleveland run of the game in the sixth and the 5-1 victory gave Cleveland manager Terry Francona his first loss in 10 World Series games. In 2015, this ticket price would've place Game 2 at No. 2 on this list. But there was more to come.
Oct. 30, 2015
Average ticket price $1,205
The first Mets World Series since the 2000 Subway Series with the Yankees, a shot at the team's first World Series title since 1986 and the first World Series game at Citi Field. Pitch Noah Syndergaard's performance in this one wasn't as solid as Mets fans would have liked, but Curtis Granderson's two-run home run in the third and a series of Royals errors sent the Mets off with a 9-3 win. From a Billy Joel national anthem to Mike Piazza throwing out the opening pitch, this one hit all the right notes in Queens and earned every cent of its premium -- even if the rest of the series fell short.
Nov. 1, 2016
Average ticket price $1,231
As we said, Cleveland hadn't won a World Series since 1948. However, older fans watched them lose a six-game series to the Atlanta Braves in 1995 and then watched reliever Jose Mesa snatch a World Series win away in 1997 after he entered in the ninth inning of Game 7 with a 2-1 lead over the Florida Marlins. The Marlins won 3-2 after 11 innings. This game was nearly 20 years of frustration taken out on the Chicago Cubs. Cleveland ace Corey Kluber gave absolutely no ground, holding the Cubs to four hits and no runs over six innings. Cleveland catcher Roberto Pérez hit two home runs and had four RBI to lead a 6-0 demolition of the Cubs. It was some sweet release, but there was still a long road ahead.
Oct. 25, 2016
Average ticket price $1,532
Cleveland had just taken two out of three games in Chicago and could've wrapped up a World Series win right here (again, we're really surprised that ticket prices here weren't higher). But the Cubs were having none of it. A Kris Bryant home run and Addison Russell double gave the Cubs three runs in the first inning. In the third inning, Russell hit a grand slam to put the Cubs up 7-0. Cleveland chipped away, scoring two runs in the fourth and fifth inning, but a two-run home run by the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo in the ninth gave the Cubs all they'd need. Even as weary Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth, it was clear that this series was going to Game 7.
Nov. 2, 2016
Average ticket price $2,420
Not the most expensive ticket in recent World Series history for exactly one reason: because this game was held in Cleveland and not in Chicago. However, this game is the kind that gets bigger and less believable as the story is told throughout generations. The Cubs' Dexter Fowler hitting a home run in the first at-bat of the game, Cleveland's Carlos Santana answering with an RBI in the bottom of the third, the Cubs answering that with two runs in the fourth. The Cubs' Javier Báez knocking Corey Kluber, the best arm Cleveland had, out of the game with a home run in the fifth. Cleveland closer Andrew Miller getting tagged for a run that same inning.
The Cubs' David Ross committing an error in the bottom of the fifth to allow two Indians runs, but atoning for it with a home run of his own in the sixth. Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman, already used heavily in two games prior, finally breaking and allowing a game-tying three runs in the eighth inning. Then, the rain falling with the score tied 6-6 in the ninth. From there, it's the story Cubs fans will tell their kids for years: The Cubs' Jason Heyward gives his speech to the team behind the dugout, Ben Zobrist breaks the tie in the 10th, Miguel Montero adds another run, Cleveland's Rajai Davis (who homered off Chapman in the eighth) tacks on another run with two outs in the 10th, but Cleveland's Michael Martinez grounds to Kris Bryant, who throws to Anthony Rizzo for the out and 108 years of futility end in extra innings. It was the kind of game that produces fans for life, and it ranks fourth on this list.
Oct. 28, 2016
Average ticket price $3,470
Hey, the Cubs got a win in Cleveland and were staring down three games at Wrigley Field. What could go wrong? Well, don't blame "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" singer Bill Murray for what happened here. Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks and Indians starter Josh Tomiln threw scoreless games for more than four innings. The Cubs' Carl Edwards Jr. gave ageless Cleveland hitter Coco Crisp an RBI in the seventh, but the Cubs' Javier Báez had men on base when he struck out swinging to end the game. This was just a close one, but it's one the Cubs would've loved to have back a night later.
Oct. 30, 2016
Average ticket price $4,177
OK, so you're now done 3-1 in the World Series in front of a home crowd that used to your franchise's futility. A pall of impending doom hangs in the air, somewhere a billy goat is butting at the gates and you just get the sense that first-pitch hurler Ryne Sandberg and "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" singer Eddie Vedder are going down in infamy. Not on this night. Cleveland's José Ramírez nearly squeezed the life out of Wrigley Field with a solo home run in the second, but the Cubs' Kris Bryant answered with one of his own in the fourth to start a three-run inning for the Cubs. After the Indians added another run in the sixth inning, Cubs manager Joe Maddon brought in closer Aroldis Chapman to throw more than 40 pitches and secure the win. He'd be second guessed for his use of Chapman throughout the next two games, but Chapman's long stint here saved the Cubs' series and set up a wild couple of nights in Cleveland.
Oct. 29, 2016
Average ticket price $4,257
Clearly, some Cubs fans thought a four-game sweep was possible before this series began. However, down 2-1 going into this game, perhaps they just wanted to see a World Series game at Wrigley while they could. This one didn't start out ugly for the Cubs, but it ended that way. The Cubs got a run in the first, but they'd allow seven to Cleveland before scoring their next one. Nothing went well: Cubs starter John Lackey was atrocious, Kris Bryant committed two errors, the Cubs bullpen gave up four runs. By the time the Cubs' Dexter Fowler hit a solo home run off Cleveland closer Andrew Miller in the eighth inning, this game just felt over. Cleveland was one win away from a title and Games 6 and 7 waiting in Cleveland. But Game 4's fairly lifeless Cubs team picked a fine time to come alive.