What a week. For the Houston sports fan, it was a week with one single goal: Beat Philadelphia. In days long past, if Houston and Philadelphia were city-states, then it would be less a game and more classic armed conflict, with both sides in a bloody life-or-death struggle for glory and power. Perhaps it is best that we are not in those past times, especially considering the cities involved. A actual city vs. city fight between citizens from both locations could get medieval real fast (literally). Imaging such a conflict with modern weaponry between the projected firepower that Houstonians would bring vs. the sheer brutality of Philly fans…that would start moving into Iran/Iraq War of the Cities territory real quick.
Setting that spiraling metaphor aside, this past week has been a strange oddity in the sports world, where two cities find multiple sports teams facing off in major/significant contests over the course of a full week. During the week of October 30 through November 5, the cities of Philadelphia and Houston will have played against each other in five baseball games between the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies (since the series is guaranteed to go six after Wednesday’s result) and one NFL game (A Thursday Night Amazon Prime matchup) between the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles. Due to the impact of weather, the NFL matchup ran concurrently with game five of the World Series. Two relatively high pressure matchups on the same night at the same time. The regular season football game in Houston and the World Series game in Philly. How many would flip between one screen or another? In this day and age where people have access to multiple electronic devices, multi-watching must have been in play.
This is not entirely alien to Houston. Back in 2019, Washington D.C. and Houston ran into this sort of situation. The week of October 27 through November 2, The Nationals and Astros played three World Series games and the Rockets and Wizards squared off in on October 30th. On the 30th, the basketball game was in D.C., and the Astros hosted game seven. In what was a rather entertaining offensive shootout, Houston overcame the Wizards 159-158, with Harden going off for 59. However, the impact of that game was overshadowed by the Nationals becoming the first team to win a seven-game World Series by winning every single road game (the last being a 6-2 come-from-behind victory), and losing every single home game. For the NBA, with the season just starting, the game did not take on as huge significance in the overall NBA season. In the battle of the cities, Washington took two baseball games (games six and seven), but lost game five and the NBA tilt. While it was a 2-2 record, most would hold that Washington got the better end of the deal.
As for this round, the NFL, with only 17 regular season games (vs. 82 for the NBA), each individual game is of season-altering significance. More often than not, the NFL will trump all others for ratings. This is usually true, even if the matchup is hardly the thrilling must-see event of the season. How did that stack up in this most recent battle of the cities?
Thus far, the 2022 World Series has had its moments, but it still follows the recent trend of historically low ratings. Meanwhile, even a matchup like the Eagles vs. Texans, or the NFL equivalent of Tennessee vs. Tennessee Tech, drew over 7.6 million viewers. Yet, and this must be considered a bit of surprise, the World Series actually beat the NFL. Nationally, nearly 12.8 million viewers tuned in to watch the nail-biting game five of the World Series. For the two markets with the biggest stakes in the matchup, the World Series dominated the eyeballs of Philly and H-town, with both cities clocking in with 25.9 and 25.5 respectively (approx. 12.5-13 million viewers).
Typically, the NFL will win out in the ratings, even if they are offering a dog of a matchup. The Texans actually made it a more competitive matchup than expected, but the Eagles, with the 29-17 win, moved to 8-0 on the season. This is the best start in the 89-year history of the franchise. However, the stakes for the World Series game five, with the winner moving to within one game of the championship, were too much for the baseball-mad towns to ignore. The thrilling 3-2 Astros victory, which was not secured until the final out, was more than enough to pull Texans and Eagles fans from Amazon to Fox.
At the time of this writing, this Battle of the Cities stands at 3-3 (Philly won World Series games one and three and the NFL match-up, Houston won World Series games two, four, and five). With one more win, Houston will finish with four wins. A game six win, and the qualitative and quantitative matchup goes to Houston. A game seven (if necessary, Durga forbid) Houston win will end in a statistical tie, but Houston would take the qualitative victory. If Philly wins both matchups this weekend, they win 5-3. Clearly, the author of this piece will would rather Houston take the W, but it has been a fascinating week to see two cities slug it out for sporting and civic bragging rights.
[UPDATE: AS OF SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 5TH, THE HOUSTON ASTROS COMPLETED THE BATTLE OF THE CITIES, WITH A 4-1 WIN, CLINCHING THE WORLD SERIES 4-2, AND WINNING THE “BATTLE OF THE CITIES” 4-3.]