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Sports | A World Series push deeper into fall hurts TV ratings

Issue: "All-American adoption story," Nov. 21, 2009

Since 1973, the year television ratings began recording the number of viewers watching the World Series, baseball's biggest stage has consistently dropped in TV popularity. Six times the championship series has dipped below 20 million viewers per game, each of those instances coming in this decade, including the past four consecutive years. Last year, viewership hit an all-time low of 13.6 million per game due in large part to rain delays and the inclusion of the small-market Tampa Bay Rays.

This year's matchup between the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Yankees has prompted a ratings upswing. But if league officials hope to stop the overarching trend of dwindling TV audiences, it will take more than hoping for popular pennant winners. They'll need to stop playing ball in November.

An analysis comparing ratings data with start dates for Game 1 of the series reveals a correlation between low viewership and late dates. The more the series pushes into fall, the fewer people watch.

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Case in point: The average start date for the 16 times since 1973 that the fall classic has drawn 30-million-plus TV viewers is Oct. 15. Compare that to an average start date of Oct. 18 for the 13 times that the championship has drawn between 20 million and 30 million viewers and an average date of Oct. 22 when it has drawn fewer than 20 million.

This year's start date of Oct. 28 is the latest in history, the series getting underway with the NFL season nearly half complete and the NBA season tipped off the day before. If that trend of late starts continues, the next Reggie Jackson could well be dubbed Mr. November.

Head to head

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan has procured NFL medical records for a House panel investigation

By Mark Bergin

Associated Press/Photo by Charles Dharapak

A University of Michigan report showing higher-than-average dementia rates among former professional football players has prompted some members of Congress to consider intervention.

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan has procured NFL medical records for a House panel investigating the matter to determine if congressional action is necessary. The Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee says "independent review of the data" is needed.

NFL commissioner Roger Goddell consented to hand over medical records but defended the league's handling of the issue in testimony before Congress. In recent years, the NFL has instituted equipment upgrades, stricter rules about helmet-to-helmet contact, and an educational initiative on the importance of reporting head injuries to team doctors. What's more, the league commissioned the University of Michigan study of its own volition, a sign of taking the matter seriously.

Nevertheless, some House Democrats, like Rep. Maxine Waters of California and Rep. Sheila Jackson of Texas, believe the league has fallen short of its duty to protect players and that such deficiency is possible grounds to revoke the NFL's anti-trust exemption.

House Republicans, including Reps. Lamar Smith and Ted Poe of Texas, decried such congressional intervention. Poe said that having lawmakers determine NFL rules would ruin the game: "We'd all be playing touch football."

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