On Yankees playoff ratings and TBS' coverage of the post-season
(Note: Some of this column appeared on the "Around the Empire" section of SB Nation New York on Thursday)
The Yankees may be America's favorite baseball team, but they were No. 2 in New York this week.
The TBS broadcast of Game 1 of the Yankees-Twins American League Division Series (for more, read my Sunday column, Behind the Mic this week) drew a 13.2 rating in the New York market. While this is a very good number for a first round playoff game, it's still below the 15.1 rating the Giants drew against the Bears on Sunday Night Football a few days ago, as well as the 15.1 rating the Jets-Dolphins game did for NBC the Sunday before. It was well below the Manning Bowl broadcast, as Giants-Colts scored a 17.7 season high in the market for NBC a few weeks back. The game drew a massive 29.6 in the Twin Cities.
The game drew 6.9 million viewers nationally, up 5 percent from Game 1 of the two teams' ALDS showdown a year ago. Overall, TBS' opening day playoff coverage averaged 4.4 million viewers, down 10 percent from the comparable day in 2009. However, Game 2 had even lower numbers. In a less prime-time friendly slot, the game drew 5.3 million viewers nationaly, down 18% from Game 2 of the Yankees-Twins 2009 series, which did air entirely in primetime and scored 6.4 million viewers. It's the lowest-rated, least-watched Yankee playoff game on national television in either of the team's previous two playoff runs, including afternoon LCS games against the Angels from 2009.
Even worse, the local ratings fell. The game was down to an 11.1 in the New York market, with Minnesota being especially deflated, dropping to a 21.1. While an 11.1 is still big in New York, it's still below Game 1 and well below those football numbers. What could be to blame for this seeming disinterest in the Bombers this time around?
It could be one of many factors. Complacency certainly factors in. With the Yankees having gone a forever-in-Yankee-time eight years without a championship until last year, it could be said that Yankee fans are taking this division series a little bit more for granted. The Twins are an old opponent with many occurrences of failure against the Bronx Bombers, so Yankee fans could've seen it as a same ol', same ol' and waited for the League Championship Series.
It could be the cable network broadcasting the games, and for a number of reasons. TBS is in fewer homes than, say, a FOX network, which will air the World Series but not the ALCS (The two league championship series alternate between TBS and FOX each year, and this year FOX airs the NLCS) and Yankee fans, especially casual ones after a year of YES, FOX and ESPN, could be unaccustomed to tuning into the channel and having trouble finding them. TBS airs MLB games on Sunday afternoon, but they are blacked out in the local markets, so they could be unaware that the games are even there.
When it comes to TBS, however, the flaw isn't penetration, it's quality. The broadcasts have not improved. Going from Chip Caray to Ernie Johnson may have made the broadcast more technically listen-able, but they still leave a lot to be desired. Johnson is more of a studio host anyway, and doesn't really have a play-by-play voice. He tries and is aptly prepared, but still made some pretty basic mistakes during Game 1. Ron Darling is his typical solid, intelligent self, but the announcers lack chemistry, which is a shame. John Smoltz is pretty good too, but they lack a uniting play-by-play man to make the whole thing go.
TBS' production of the entire playoffs has lacked chemistry. Because they use a rotating, inconsistent stable of announcers during their Sunday game, they throw broadcast teams together for the playoffs that haven't seen each other all season. The only ones that have really worked have been Dick Stockton and Bob Brenly's pairing, on Atlanta-San Francisco. In addition, the studio show is the same way. TBS rarely does a studio pre-game during the season, so host Matt Winer and analysts Dennis Eckersly, David Wells and Cal Ripken seem to sound like they've never met before.
No matter the reason, you have to think that Yankee ratings will improve once we reach the League Championship Series. Either match-up would be an intriguing one that would see a new playoff foe for the Pinstripes. The Yankees and Texas haven't met since the late 90's, and would play on the longtime New York-Dallas rivalry that exists in football. Yankees-Rays, as unlikely as it looks as of this writing, has been seemingly simmering as a rivalry, and it could reach boiling point with an ALCS match-up. The games will remain compelling, but with poor production on a cable network more known for Everybody Loves Raymond reruns, will the fans have the patience to stick around?