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The No-Mets World Series Ratings Game

Does the all-California World Series between the Dodgers and the Oakland A’s portend another ratings blow for NBC, fresh off a disappointing Summer Olympics in Seoul?

An emphatic “no” was voiced Thursday by Michael Weisman, executive producer of NBC Sports, who said the Dodgers’ Cinderella-like performance in the National League playoffs had captured the attention of the entire country.

“The most important thing that will affect us is the number of games,” Weisman said in a telephone interview from New York. “If we had a Dodgers-Yankees series, representing the two biggest markets, and it only went four or five games, that wouldn’t be good for us. We don’t care who plays, we don’t care who wins. If they can get to a seventh game, the drama builds, the ratings go up for every game and we’re happy puppies.”

But Richard Kostrya, an executive with the J. Walter Thompson ad agency in New York, predicted that the loss of the New York Mets from the series will adversely affect the ratings by an estimated three points, which would translate to about 2.7 million households.

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Kostrya noted that the 1986 World Series between the Mets and the Boston Red Sox earned a 28.4 rating, while last year’s seven-game battle between St. Louis and Minnesota scored only a 24. Kostrya said he is expecting about a 25 rating--more than 22.5 million households--for the Dodgers-A’s games.

“It’s not going to be such a disaster as a Toronto-Montreal series would be,” Kostrya said. “It’s not going to be a bomb. They’ve simply lost the cream off the milk.”

Executives at NBC conceded that a bicoastal World Series featuring the Mets and the A’s might have drawn a slightly larger audience, but they insisted that the World Series is an event, like the Superbowl or the NCAA basketball finals, that transcends the teams that play in it.

Robert Blackmore, executive vice president of NBC, said that all advertising time for the World Series had been sold in advance, and that NBC will do well financially with this series.

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“Both the Dodgers and the Mets have a national following,” Blackmore said. “And the numbers for the series are going to be big no matter what.”

Kostrya agreed that NBC will not lose money as a result of the Dodgers victory over the Mets Wednesday night because none of the ad time sold for the series--at about $300,000 for a 30-second commercial--guarantees a particular number of viewers. Advertisers, he said, simply buy the time and take their chances--unlike the Olympics, where they were promised a certain-size audience. When ratings fell below that level, NBC had to give free ad time to its sponsors.

“I’d be stupid not to tell you that the Mets are our most popular team--love ‘em or hate ‘em,” said Kevin Monaghan, director of sports information at NBC. “But the highest-rated World Series game of all time was Game 6, 1980, between Philadelphia and Kansas City.”

The 1980 Phillies-Royals series turned out to be the second-highest rated World Series of the last 13 years. The Dodgers-New York Yankees six-game tussle in 1981 was the No. 1-rated Series with an average rating of 32.8. The Dodgers-Yankees battles in ’77 and ’78 were the third and fourth best-rated match-ups.

“The only reason some of us here in New York might have preferred the Mets is that we can spend more time closer to home,” Weisman said. “But I just spent two months in Korea (overseeing NBC’s Olympic coverage) and I need the sun.

“Sure, there’s disappointment in New York and there is bound to be some loss of interest,” Weisman said. “But a lot of people around the country were rooting for the Dodgers because they were the classic underdog. The Dodgers really became the underdog, Cinderella-type team and captured the attention of the entire country. Maybe not in New York, but it’s a big country out there. And with Oakland and (its slugging star) Jose Canseco, this is a very glamorous World Series.”

Meanwhile, the climactic game between the Dodgers and the Mets proved to be a big draw Wednesday night. Nationally, the National League championship game on ABC scored a 22.2 rating and was seen in more than 20 million homes.

Los Angeles, nearly 1.8 million households, representing nearly six out of every 10 television sets in use at the time, watched the Dodgers win the pennant.

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