By Dan Caesar
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
The Rams may be turning things around on the field with two consecutive victories, but they are stagnant in the television ratings.
At the midpoint of their season, they are on pace for their worst performance in that department since 1998, the year before their rise to prominence began.
Nielsen Media Research says that the Rams' eight games this season have been seen in an average of 22.3 percent of area homes. That puts the Rams on pace for their worst season since a 15.8 rating in 1998, when they generated the worst rating in their 11 seasons in St. Louis. They were 4-12 that year to cap a three-season run in which their combined record was 15-33.
Some of the current doldrums have been attributed to fans having Cardinals fever in October and picking baseball over football. But the reality is that the Rams have competed with Cards postseason runs before and fared better in the Nielsen ratings.
And there was no Cards competition the past two weeks, when the Rams averaged a lackluster (for them) 22.2 rating.
Even more alarming for those who count on the Rams to drive advertising revenue at their stations is the fact that their most-recent five games are the five lowest-rated contests since early in the 1999 season. Included in that group is their worst rating in their St. Louis years, a 13.0 figure for a 45-28 loss to Indianapolis in a Monday night game. That game was played at the same time as the Cards' comeback win over Houston in the playoffs. That was the night Albert Pujols hit his three-run homer in the ninth inning to rescue the Redbirds, albeit temporarily, in the series.
KTVI (Channel 2) carries the bulk of the Rams' telecasts and its general manager, Spencer Koch, says he expects better ratings ahead. Elements included in his optimism are the fact the team has pulled itself back into playoff contention, the curiosity about the coaching change from Mike Martz to Joe Vitt and the fact that the weather is usually much poorer in the second half of the season than it is in the first - thus there are more people indoors and watching TV.
"Two weeks ago it was beginning to look a little suspect," Koch said. "But I think the first eight games have been the Martz half, and the second half is going to be the Vitt half. Now that the Cardinals' season is over and this early funk is gone, I think people are going to start focusing on the Rams, I really do.
"We're used to those days of the 30 ratings, the 28 ratings, and we're not quite there yet. But to be doing 20-25 ratings with a team that has gotten off to this sort of a start to me is pretty amazing."
The Rams still remain the biggest ratings draw - by far - in the market. But what about the ratings in the upper 30s and lower 40s of the recent past?
"I think there's a chance," Koch said. "I think we can get back to those levels. But the bottom line, a 20-30 rating makes (the Rams) the No. 1 program in town."
What were the two top-rated live sporting events on local TV last weekend other than NFL games? No, it wasn't college football or the Blues game against the Kings.
The top two events on that list were racing - auto and horse racing.
The Classic, the feature horse race on the Breeders' Cup eight-race card, was seen in 6.6 percent of area homes, according to Nielsen. The NASCAR Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 in Atlanta drew a 5.1 rating.
The best college football rating was 3.0 for the Georgia-Florida game, and the Blues drew a 3.2 figure. The rating for the entire five-hour Breeders' Cup card was 3.3.
FSN Midwest is phasing in its "up close and personal" coverage of Blues telecasts.
There will be interviews of players on the bench during games, a camera will be placed in the locker room to gather tape of strategy sessions and players will wear microphones to catch their comments. Those will air on tape so any offensive material can be deleted.
In a development that occurred while this space was dominated by Cardinals postseason coverage, NBC is expected to pull out of the NASCAR telecasting mix when its contract expires at the end of the 2006 season. Sister networks ABC and ESPN are expected to gain the portion of the TV contract that NBC has had. Fox is expected to re-sign to carry the first part of the season, and TNT also might continue to be involved.
"We are in the middle of contract negotiations right now and we have nothing to announce at this time," NASCAR's Jim Hunter told The Associated Press. "But it is no secret that ABC/ESPN has expressed a strong interest in being a part of the television negotiations and we are continuing those talks."
In a development this week, FIFA, soccer's international governing body, reached an eight-year deal with ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 and Spanish-language Univision to televise major events. The networks are combining to pay $425 million, which is a 120 percent increase from the contracts that end after next year's World Cup in Germany.
Television ratings for Rams telecasts in their St. Louis tenure:
2005 figure is through eight games.
Each ratings point represents 1 percent of the homes in the market (about 11,700 per point).
Nielsen Media Research