Alex Rodriguez's boost to Yankees ratings, attendance will be fleeting
Alex Rodriguez is as good a symbol as any for Yankees, Inc., a bloated enterprise built on money, fame and power and yet fragile in the end.
So we have seen this season as age and infirmity finally have caught up to the team, sending attendance sliding and television ratings plummeting as the Bombers struggle to remain in playoff contention.
And so we will be reminded Friday night of some of the pizzazz that has been missing when A-Rod makes his not-so-triumphant return to the Bronx, providing a boost in interest that figures to be fleeting.
By Sunday, the novelty (and comedy) of seeing him play despite facing a 211-game suspension will begin to fade along with the Yankees' postseason hopes, and come spring, he likely will be gone again for much or all of 2014 -- along with as much other luxury tax-generating payroll as the Yankees can avoid.
That is mostly Rodriguez's fault, of course, for choosing to turn himself from the presumed-to-be clean future home run king into just another PED-popper. But it also is on the Yankees for overpaying to secure the star power to which they and their partly team-owned YES Network are addicted.
Now all of it is crumbling, at least for the short term.
Don't cry for YES, which remains spectacularly profitable thanks to the monthly subscriber fees paid by television distributors, the pillar on which the modern sports business is built.
But ratings still matter to advertisers, and those figures remain weak. YES is averaging 2.54 percent of New York-area homes for Yankees games this season, down 35.5 percent from this point in 2012 -- a season that itself ended with YES' lowest ratings in a decade.
Rodriguez's season debut Monday in Chicago yielded a season-high 4.34, but by Tuesday on My9, the rating had slipped to 3.1. Wednesday's game on YES also did a 3.1.
Attendance, too, should benefit from A-Rod's return Friday. Asking prices on the secondary market are higher than usual for the right to boo or cheer him. According to TiqIQ.com, asking prices for Friday night's game were averaging $112.15 as of Thursday afternoon, up nearly 40 percent since July 31; the lowest asking price was $49, up more than double since Monday.
But Rodriguez is in no position to single-handedly reverse a persistent downward trend.
The Yankees' paid attendance is off by an average of 3,204 compared to 2012, according to Baseball-Reference.com. That still leaves them at a healthy 39,977 per game -- tops in the American League and fourth in MLB. Six other teams' attendance is down by more. Still . . . the Yankees have not finished a season averaging under 40,000 since 2000.
In 2008, the final year at the old, less expensively priced stadium, the Yankees averaged 53,069 in paid attendance.
One year later, Rodriguez was a playoff hero, the Yankees were champions and all was well in the Evil Empire.
Now? Not so much, partly thanks to A-Rod's spectacular fall, on and off the field.
Friday night, all eyes will be on him and the Yankees -- on television and in person -- just like old times. But it will be a mirage, soon to be replaced by a long, grim march to late September.