ST. LOUIS -- It will be the national pastime vs. the national obsession Sunday night. Two days before election day across the country, TV viewers will vote with their remotes in a different kind of tally, this one run by Nielsen, that should produce some interesting results.
Not since 1992 has the NFL gone head-to-head with the World Series on the first Sunday of MLB's showcase event. And, in what might be a stunner given today's ratings climate, baseball won that battle by a mammoth margin. CBS' telecast of Game 2 of the Toronto-Atlanta baseball matchup was seen in 20.2 percent of homes with a TV, according to The Nielsen Co.; the number for TBS' coverage of the Detroit-Minnesota football was 2.8.
The difference also was huge the previous year (21.7 rating for baseball, 2.6 for football). These mismatches led the NFL to stop scheduling games on the World Series' first Sunday night.
In fact, the Series and the NFL have gone head-to-head nine times in the past 20 seasons (six Sunday nights, three Mondays), and baseball won them all. Four of those instances were on Sunday nights of the World Series' second weekend -- when the NFL played at a time when it was possible the Series would be over, but instead the Series gained the huge pull of a Game 7. The lowest baseball win in those cases was a 17.9 rating vs. a 3.6 figure.
But the NFL recently has been riding an incredible ratings wave. The 12 most-watched TV programs since the current pro football season began are NFL games -- up from seven at this stage last year and zero in the top 15 five years ago. Meanwhile, the five worst-rated Series have come in the past five years. So Sunday's results will be interesting when Game 4 of the Texas-San Francisco World Series on Fox (KTVI, Channel 2 locally) goes against the Pittsburgh-New Orleans NFL matchup on NBC (KSDK, Channel 5).
"The World Series has always gone up against the toughest competition in all of television and always performs exceptionally well against any show," Fox spokesman Dan Bell said Thursday.
The NFL is undaunted.
"The rationale is that 'Sunday Night Football' has become a staple, that people want to watch football for the entire season," commissioner Roger Goodell told NFL Network when the schedule was released. "And we didn't feel it was appropriate to take it off anymore," that it is best to "allow the consumer to be able to choose."
There will be no overlap next weekend for Game 7, as MLB has gone back to having that game scheduled for midweek.
Nielsen says Game 1 of the World Series, on Wednesday night, was seen in 8.9 percent of homes with a TV. That's the second-worst for an opener (the Cardinals and Tigers pulled an 8 figure in 2006). Viewership certainly was hurt by the Giants opening a big lead midway through the contest.
Joe Buck has accomplished more than only a handful of other sportscasters in his 41 years, and his latest milestone is in progress. He's doing play-by-play of his 13th World Series, breaking the record for most times in the role on network TV held by legends Vin Scully and Curt Gowdy.
Buck often credits his run to the fact that the Series has found a home on Fox, the network he works for, after bouncing around for years. This is the 11th time in a row it has the Series. Still, he is humbled by the accomplishment.
"I'm flattered that that's even brought up," Buck said on a conference call this week. "But (Gowdy and Scully) are the titans of the industry. When I think of baseball broadcasters, I think of those voices, and I certainly don't put myself in that category."
He works with analyst and former Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver, who is broadcasting his 21st World Series -- by far the most for anyone in a network TV role.
"I can't tell you how thrilled I am that all this time, Tim has been my partner at it," Buck said. "We've never had any cross words."