Jose Reyes leaving may not hurt Mets on TV
A baseball season is a 162-episode television show -- with encores in October -- and as with most TV shows, generally it is not good for business when a star exits.
So beyond the obvious on-field implications, and those at the box office, Jose Reyes' decision to fly south for the summer figures to diminish the Mets' already faded relevance as a media attraction. Right? Perhaps so, but probably only to a point.
This is not basketball, in which the departure of LeBron James can turn the Cavaliers from a marquee franchise into a nonentity overnight. And it is not football, in which Peyton Manning can be sidelined and three months later see his winless Colts flexed out of a game against the Patriots.
Baseball is different, dependent more on market size and local fan bases than on stars and standings. That is why the Cubs consistently find themselves on national TV regardless of their ineptitude.
So Reyes or no Reyes, the Mets are not about to disappear from the national scene as they rebuild or regroup or refinance or whatever it is they are doing.
But at least ESPN and Fox have a choice. The stakes in the Mets are much higher for SNY, the mostly team-owned network that exists largely to televise their games. Ratings have sunk along with the team's prospects in recent years; now the Mets' most exciting player is gone.
Is SNY president Steve Raab worried? "I have never been able to peg a rating in baseball to a player," he said Monday. "The one thing I am reasonably certain of is when a team is a winner, you are going to do better than when it isn't. To the extent the organization is making those moves [to improve], who more would you like to put your faith in than a guy like Sandy [Alderson] and his team?"
We shall see about that. In the meantime, SNY continues to produce games as well as any regional network, doing what it can to keep things interesting.
Lower ratings obviously are not good for a regional sports network, but revenues from advertisers do not fluctuate as wildly as viewership ups and downs suggest. More importantly, cable TV relies more on the stable income of monthly subscriber fees than on ads.
Such is the economic magic of sports TV, and why SNY is more valuable and profitable than the Mets themselves.
SNY did not shy away from the Reyes story Sunday night, offering extensive coverage and commentary. And come April, the games will go on and still will be a valuable programming commodity. "It's still baseball in New York, still DVR-proof live sports," Raab said.
Nationally, Fox figures to load up on the Mets for its Saturday regional coverage. ESPN has more difficult decisions because the entire nation sees the same Sunday night game. If the Mets exceed expectations, they surely will play the maximum five Sunday nights. Even if they flop, they figure to play at least four.
"I don't think Jose Reyes leaving the Mets in and of itself diminishes interest in the Mets," said Mike Ryan, ESPN vice president for programming and acquisitions. "It's a big-market club capable of attracting a national audience and they still have a very marketable, media-friendly star in David Wright."
But winning does matter. Ryan said noncompetitive teams eventually fall out of favor.
By the end of the month, ESPN will send its 2012 wish list to Major League Baseball, after which its Sunday games will be locked in for April and May. "The Mets are very much a part of our discussion for 'Sunday Night Baseball,' " Ryan said. "We project them to be well-represented."