YES most valuable of sports cable networks

Undated file photo of Michael Kay and John Undated file photo of Michael Kay and John Sterling. Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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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. ...

There is no denying MSG's venerable place in the evolution of cable TV sports; it launched the day before the Mets won the World Series -- the 1969 World Series -- and remains an economic powerhouse.

But in many ways, the modern history of local sports television began with the arrival of the YES Network, which only seems as if it has been around forever.

Derek Jeter already was entering his eighth season as a Yankee when the network launched on March 19, 2002, a milestone YES will celebrate with a 10th anniversary special next Tuesday.

It has been quite a run, during which other pro and college teams and leagues -- the Mets notably among them -- were inspired by dollar signs to start their own versions of team-owned channels.

But none can match YES in viewership or value. At an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion, it is worth much more than the team itself. (The Yankees actually own less than half of the network; Goldman Sachs also is a major stakeholder.)

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Tracy Dolgin, YES' president since 2004, acknowledged the obvious Monday, which is that the network benefits from the team's commitment to consistently contending. That helps not only with advertising but, more importantly, in securing the subscriber fees that are the bulk of every regional sports network's revenues. YES is believed to command about $3 per household per month.

Beyond that, Dolgin said the channel focuses on quality and reinvestment, just as the team does. "The ethos of the Yankees created the ethos of the YES Network," he said.

YES generally gets good reviews for its technical expertise and innovation, but it has been rightly criticized for its periodic lapses into clumsy, non-journalistic behavior.

Just one example: Not acknowledging the ceremony during which the Red Sox received their World Series rings before the 2005 opener against the Yankees, even though it could be heard in the background during the pregame report.

Dolgin was unapologetic about the Yankees-centric point of view, saying flatly that YES "is a homer network" like all regional sports networks, team-owned or not.

"I use the word 'homer' proudly, as opposed to a journalist fearing that word," he said. "When you are watching a game, I'm very proud to say we're rooting for the home team on our air."

That does not mean ignoring negative developments, he said, especially in an information age in which "even if you wanted to, you can't hide the facts." But bad news, like good news, is discussed through a Yankees-fan prism.

(In fairness, SNY personalities have been openly critical of the Mets in ways YES never has been about the Yankees.)

Dolgin said the network makes its own decisions but admitted the Yankees seek input, as most teams do with their local rights-holders. Then again, some teams are louder than others. "The Yankees do have very strong opinions of their brand, because frankly, it's the best," Dolgin said.

As rich and powerful as the Yankees have made YES, its winter schedule has been limited by the state of the Nets, whose ratings are by far the NBA's worst.

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The hope is that next season's move to Brooklyn will make the franchise more successful and relevant, adding to YES' value to distributors. "They have only one direction to go at this point," Dolgin said of the Nets.

It starts with re-signing guard Deron Williams, who scored 57 points Sunday. "As much as there is Lin-sanity going on," Dolgin said, "if you watched basketball on Sunday, it's not hard to tell who the best point guard is in New York."

Dolgin said YES' task in the next five years is to not grow complacent and "keep reinventing ourselves."

Much has changed in the past decade. But some things never do. Three days after launching, YES premiered its first "Yankeeography." It was about Jeter.

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