Why was that man sitting in the expensive seats at Yankee Stadium smiling most times you saw him Tuesday and Wednesday behind righthanded batters from the first-base camera angle?
Because he is Jon Litner, president of the YES Network, and if you think you are happy about the team’s 17-1 surge, join the club.
“I think it’s electric and magical and obviously incredibly gratifying,” Litner said before Thursday night’s game, referring to the Yankees’ best in-season stretch since 1953 and the resulting euphoria among YES’ viewers and business partners.
On Tuesday night, YES averaged 6.76 percent of area homes for the Red Sox-Yankees game, its best for a regular-season game since 2012. (Not counting Derek Jeter’s home finale in 2014, which had a rating north of 10.)
It also was the highest-rated Yankees game in April or May since 2010.
On Wednesday night, YES averaged a 5.66 rating even though the game also was on ESPN, which had a 1.10 rating, for a total of . . . 6.76 again! YES’ coverage was the highest-rated TV show of any kind in the New York market that night.
Overall, YES’ Yankees games are averaging 3.93 percent of homes, 16 percent better than last year and its best start in six years.
Like every local TV executive, Litner accepts there is nothing he can do about the team’s record. The goal is to be ready for any eventuality.
“Team performance is something we can’t control,” he said “What we can control is putting ourselves in a position to capitalize on it.”
That includes both on the business side and in production. Regarding the latter, Litner pointed to the use of Statcast to measure things such as exit velocity, and super slow motion cameras.
And, yes, he endorsed YES’ addition this season of a strike zone graphic for every pitch — one that is thinner than other versions but which still has annoyed many viewers.
“We think it is an enhancing element,” Litner said. “Our analysts really have taken to it and think it’s terrific and we really do think it’s serving our viewers.”
YES’ rising Yankees tide seems to be lifting even its late afternoon simulcast of ESPN New York radio’s “The Michael Kay Show,” which stars YES’ lead Yankees play-by-play man and has enjoyed some of its strongest ratings to date of late.
“As it relates to Michael Kay, I think what happens is that talk radio tends to gravitate to the biggest stories, and in New York there’s nothing bigger than the Yankees right now,” Litner said. “There’s an electricity that’s coursing through this town.”
YES will not directly benefit from Thursday night’s Red Sox-Yankees series finale. That game is on WPIX, one of 21 that Channel 11 will carry under a licensing deal with YES.
Why would YES give up a Red Sox game? “We work on a schedule that works for us and works for them,” Litner said. In other words, WPIX annually gets its share of marquee games. Thursday night is one of them.
But if the Yankees keep up this pace, YES will have plenty more big ratings where this week’s came from.
Said Litner, “Winning makes us all look like geniuses.”