Yankees and Mets' TV ratings swing and miss

Players from the 1986 Mets, like SNY broadcasters Players from the 1986 Mets, like SNY broadcasters Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez, tend to keep their interactions with the current team to a minimum. Photo Credit: Kathy Kmonicek, 2009

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

Here we are on the doorstep of Memorial Day and of the truncated, four-game Subway Series Lite, which is a handy reminder that it is baseball season at last in Baseball City!

Or so the friendly folks who bring the Yankees and Mets to our television screens hope.

It has been a strange spring for the local nines, with drops both in attendance -- more than 3,000 per game in the Yankees' case -- and TV ratings.

Let's look more closely at the latter, because as careful readers know by now, the real money in 21st century sports is generated by cable television fees and (to a lesser extent) advertising. TV numbers also are a purer judge of fan interest because they are not subject to the whims of the weather or the economy or the traffic on the Major Deegan.

Yankees first: After averaging 3.9 percent of metropolitan-area homes for games on YES last year, their lowest in a decade, the Yankees are poking along at 2.52 in 2013, according to Nielsen figures.

That's down 38.7 percent from their average after the same number of games last spring.

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Those are alarming numbers, especially given an overachieving team that has ignored its spate of injuries and turned Joe Girardi into an improbable Manager of the Year candidate.

So what is it?

Undoubtedly, the fact that four local hockey and basketball teams reached the playoffs hurt; of the 39 games on YES to date, 10 were against Knicks playoff games, more postseason games than the Knicks had played since 2000.

Then there is the lack of familiar stars. After Robinson Cano, the next three on the Yankees' home run list are Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay.

Or maybe some complacency has set in among fans. One way or another, the Yankees always contend. That's nice, but as the Braves learned from 1991-2005, regular-season success gets monotonous after a while.

Here is a helpful suggestion for a viewership boost at YES: Have the Yankees finish under .500 for a couple of years, then bounce back with a winning season. Ratings gold!

Speaking of finishing under .500 . . . Mets games on SNY are averaging 1.84 percent of homes in 2013, on pace for the lowest such figure in the network's eight-year history and down 21.7 percent from this point last year.

Last season's final SNY number was 2.25, the network's second-lowest ever, slightly surpassing its all-time low in . . . 2011.

Not much to analyze here. The Mets are awful, except when Matt Harvey pitches. (Yup, there are ratings bumps whenever he is on the mound.)

Executives from YES and SNY declined to discuss the early-season ratings doldrums, but there is not much to talk about, really. The people have spoken loudly and clearly.

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Next week, we will start to get a better idea whether their interest will heat up into summer. The Yankees' numbers figure to improve somewhat. The Mets'? Only if Harvey pitches every day.

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