Steve Lepore's sports media column appears every Sunday.
It can be easy to take cheap shots at the YES Network. In fact, it's one of the reasons I took this job: the ability to say pretty much anything I wanted about Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network. Very freeing, but also way too easy. I realized early on when I set out to do this gig that I had to tackle things that would be difficult to cover.
So ... let's say something nice. About the YES Network.
In fact, I decided to try and find five things that the YES Network - the pompous, brash, self-serving broadcast arm of the most pompous, brash, self-serving organization in professional sports - does better than its' main competitor: Sportsnet New York. The Mets-owned cable station is often praised in comparison to what Daily News scribe Bob Raissman tirelessly calls "Al Yankzeera" and considered a bastion of baseball broadcasts and a generally more tolerable product.
Much of that is true. As far as broadcast teams go, GKR (Gary, Keith and Ron) are much, much, much better than the Yankees' revolving door of analysts sitting in with Michael Kay. The booth chemistry is so weak, in fact, that the telecasts somehow seem less cohesive when Kay is not calling a game. The postgame show also tends to be more cohesive and well-prepared. Also, SNY attempts - sometimes successfully, sometimes not - to serve the entire region, whereas YES Network seems satisfied to only give news to the Yankee fan (and during the winter, Nets fan).
All that said, YES does some things the right way, and some of them better than Sportsnet. Lets talk about them:
SNY struggled for many years to come up with a graphics package that didn't look like it was from the mid-90s. A couple years back, their studio program, "Sportsnite," moved into the 21st century. This season, they are as good - if not better - than most MLB broadcasts. However, they aren't as good as the typically groundbreaking YES - which have been tops in the majors since day one.
YES is great at displaying a clear, compact, un-intrusive, but still visually stunning and Yankee-themed presentation. This year's upgrade is particularly nice, with the innovation of showing a pitcher's pitch count throughout the entire game. In these modern days of obsessive compulsive armchair pitching coaches, it is as essential as any of the non-sensical statistics ESPN shows before and after every pitch. The YES pitch count is so innovative that Boston's NESN has already copied them. Imitation is the sincerest form of ripping off the best.
2. Player Analysts More In Touch with Modern Players
Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez are a great team. They have solid chemistry with each other and with Gary Cohen. This goes ditto for Bobby Ojeda and Darryl Strawberry. However, try as they might, that can't be as in touch with today's major leaguer. That's where YES succeeds. Paul O'Neill (2001), John Flaherty (2005), Al Leiter (2005) and Tino Martinez (2005) all retired within the past decade, and all at least six years after Ron Darling, the most recent of the four Mets analysts to call it quits.
What some of them lack in gravitas (leave that to Ken Singleton ... I guess) they make up for in flat out knowing some of these players like you can't if you didn't play against them. Leiter - more visible than the rest due to his constant presence on MLB Network - especially gets you into the mind of today's pitcher. Darling and Hernandez's consistency and chemistry are unmatched, but Leiter may be a better pound for pound analyst than either. John Flaherty's an unsung voice, proving surprisingly adept at play-by-play occasionally. O'Neill is as likable as an analyst as he was a bull in a china shop-style player. Martinez is the weak link, but overall, each by default provides a better look - and less "can you believe these ballplayers today?" annoyance - than anyone on SNY.
3. Team-Related Programming Outside Games
Now, I'm not exactly asking for Met-ography here. Outside of a select few, the stories of Mets heroes of the past are rarely as good as anyone being celebrated on the YES player profile series. The Mets also, to that effect, don't have one 10th the library of classic games that the Pinstripes do. The Yankees have more classic contests from 1996-2001 than the Mets do in their existence.
But the Yankees do have better studio programming, and that includes Yankee-ography. Michael Kay is where he belongs, pretending he's famous enough to hobnob with celebrities and sporting legends, in the entertaining Center Stage. Instead of just showing the team-produced video from past seasons, actually going to the extent of profiling past years into their own specials is terrific. Plus, I'll also throw Batting Practice Today into the category, because I'd much rather watch that than any of the idiotic, brain-dissolving talk shows on SNY.
4. Filling in Non-Baseball Programming Holes
If it is really hard to praise YES while taking SNY down a notch, it takes the strength of 10 men to heap praise onto Mike Francesa, whose five-hour talk show is presented on the network - somehow in high definition - every working day. But he is infinitely better than any of the aforementioned awfulness SNY trots out from 5 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. every day, which includes "The Loudmouths," "The Wheelhouse" and "Daily News Live," all 10 times as "I'M GOING TO SCREAM MY POINT AT YOU BECAUSE I KNOW MORE THAN YOU" as Francesa on a particularly egregious day.
Sportsnite is also tiresome, because it can play off like a C-level SportsCenter. SNY's presentation of Big East hoops is a coup, but it doesn't beat having a (sorta) major league team on your network for the entirety of the time that baseball is gone. Having the Nets is a big deal, and will be a bigger deal with the team getting good again and besides, how much longer is the Big East going to exist? Even the Nets have a more stable future.
5. Caters to the Customer it Serves
This is an especially odd notion, to criticize a network for being completely competent, professional and neutral, but sometimes you can get the feeling that the SNY broadcast is trying too hard to be just that. Their broadcast is put together as if they're doing the FOX Saturday Game of the Week, Mets-edition. Leaned a little bit toward the good guys, but mostly run as if both teams are getting a fair shake. If you're a hardcore fan, sometimes that isn't what you want.
YES Network, however, is completely the opposite. They know their fanbase and they seek to emulate their fanbase and show it off. They do better camera shots of the crowd, searching for amusing things people in Yankees gear (on sale now!) might be doing. They do almost an 80 percent push for the Yankees as stars of the game, with the opposing team playing a mere supporting role. Plus, the announcers are complete homers. Call it a backhanded compliment, but hey, they give the Yankee fans what they want.
MSG Launches LeBron Night Live, er, Knicks Night Live
Last week in this space, we discussed the potential effects LeBron could have on TV coverage of the Knicks by in-house MSG. Something I ignored could be the notion of LeBron-centric programming. It certainly seems that a weekly show the Knicks are launching on July 1 is tailored to covering whether or not the King brings his swing to the city.
According to The Post, MSG will launch "Knicks Night Live," a semi-spinoff of their popular "Hockey Night Live" shows, on July 1 at midnight. That's right, 12:00 a.m. I'm sure that has nothing to do with the start of the NBA's free agency period on the same exact day. The constantly getting work Al Trautwig will host the show with MSG Knicks analyst Kelly Tripucka will host.
In other Knicks news, MSG will launch a second season of The Mike D'Antoni Show this fall.
Big Events: Stanley Cup Final Clincher, NBA Championship Scores in New York
National events are often an interesting grab bag in this area. Sometimes there's a lot of interest, and sometimes there just isn't. The 2010 Stanley Cup Final on NBC definitely grabbed the attention of New York-area hockey fans.
Game 5, up against the NBA Final's massive 9.4/15 in our area, drew a 3.0/5. While that is only a third of what the NBA game did, note that it is almost double the regular season average of the Rangers, Devils and Islanders combined.
Game 6, which scored the highest ratings of any hockey game in 36 years, drew a 4.7/7 in prime time, close to the national average of 4.8. For the exciting overtime and Stanley Cup presentation, 6.5 percent of New Yorkers tuned in, with 12 percent of the TV's turned on in the metropolitan area tuned to Patrick Kane's winner. It was the second-highest rated program of the night, technically.
The aforementioned NBA Final is also doing well in the No. 1 media market in the United States. The series has averaged an 8.8 rating for four games, though that's not counting out the separated 13.4 rating for the final 15 minutes of coverage in Game 4 on Thursday. The series average peaked for Game 2, with that 9.4. However, no sporting event in prime time has matched the Mets-Yankees massive 11.0 for FOX's one prime time experiment this season.
Ratings in New York for recent prime time sporting events
MLB On FOX, Yankees vs. Mets: 11.0/18
NBA Finals, Game 2: 9.4/15
NBA Finals, Game 4: 9.2/15 (Peaked at a 13.4/26 for the final 15 minutes)
NBA Finals, Game 3: 8.7/14
NBA Finals, Game 1: 8.0/14
Stanley Cup Final, Game 6: 4.7/7 (6.5/12 for OT)
Stanley Cup Final, Game 5: 3.0/5