Sport With expectations off the charts, YES Network eagerly awaits new season

00:36  14 february  2018
00:36  14 february  2018 Source:

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The TV network most eagerly anticipating the 2018 Major League Baseball season is the Yankees' own YES Network , which will market telegenic young sluggers Aaron Judge and Anticipation is off the charts from viewers and advertisers for the new season , according to YES executives.

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Yankees pitchers and catchers reported to spring training Tuesday. The TV network most eagerly anticipating the 2018 Major League Baseball season is the Yankees' own YES Network, which will market telegenic young sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton as a modern-day Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.

Anticipation is off the charts from viewers and advertisers for the new season, according to YES executives. Led by young stars like Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino and Didi Gregorius, the Baby Bombers came within one game of the 2017 World Series. At a time when even the mighty NFL's TV numbers are falling, YES average game rating rose a whopping 57 percent to 3.57 last season.

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That was YES' best number in five years. It enabled the New York-based network (majority owned by 21st Century Fox with a minority stake held by the Yankees) to reclaim its title as most-watched regional sports network, or RSN, in the country.

If expectations were not high enough, the Yankees swung a trade with the Marlins in December to land Stanton: the reigning National League MVP, who belted 59 home runs last season to Judge's 52 for the MLB lead.

Stanton and Judge were the only two players to hit more than 50 home runs last season. Along with Sanchez (33 HRs), Grigorius (25 HRs) and a full season of Greg Bird (9 HRs), YES could boast a modern day's Murderer's Row.

"We know we're very fortunate — but we're incredibly excited about the upcoming season and the years to come," YES president Jon Litner told Sporting News. "We know we’re sitting on something that’s a rocket ship. We’re counting down to spring training and the regular season."

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Like Mantle before them, noted Litner, the sports world will be waiting and watching to see if Judge and Stanton can actually hit a ball out of Yankee Stadium. Judge came close last season with some 450-foot blasts.

With Judge and Stanton taking their cuts, advertisers are clamoring to buy time in YES' "Batting Practice Today" pregame show. After Judge memorably cracked a TV camera thought to be unreachable above center field, "Batting Practice Today" posted its highest ratings ever last season. YES is installing new technology around Yankee Stadium to capture every tape-measure blast.

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Baseball's love affair with the long ball is "timeless," noted Litner. Who knows better than the Bronx Bombers?

"There's something romantic about home runs. It goes back to Babe Ruth because he was the first great home run hitter," Litner said. "If you include Greg Bird, we’ll have four guys who lead the Major Leagues, probably the world, in how fast the balls come off their bats — and how far they hit the ball."

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The day after the eventual World Series champion Astros beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, YES' ad sales team hit the ground running, according to sales chief Howard Levinson. The network has a strong story to tell after last season's surprise success.

Less than three years ago, the crosstown Mets reached the 2015 World Series and were poised to take over the Big Apple with young pitchers like Matt Harvey. The Yankees, meanwhile, were in rebuilding mode with aging, expensive stars like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter in retirement.

Then came the 2017 season. The emergence of Judge (voted the unanimous American League Rookie of the Year) and the rest of the Baby Bombers changed everything. Suddenly, the Yankees "future was now," noted Levinson. TV viewers and advertisers came pouring back.

More than five million TV viewers in the New York TV market watched all or parts of a Yankees game on YES in 2017. Primetime games out-rated every local newscast in the market. Forty game telecasts averaged a 4.0 household TV rating or higher — compared to none in 2016.

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As pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine joked in that old Nike commercial: Chicks dig the long ball. YES posted its best numbers among female viewers in five years. The ratings were particularly strong among affluent women, with a household income of $150,000 or more.

The result has been a lucrative start to the new 2018 season for YES and the Yankees.

The network's ad revenue is double-digits from the same point last season. With fans interested in both the distance and velocity of home runs hit by Judge/Stanton/Sanchez/Bird, YES is examining ways to integrate the themes of distance and speed into sponsors' advertising campaigns.

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Along Madison Avenue, the network is selling its product against the top-rated entertainment and news programs; not just sports.

Why not? asks Levinson. With a team of charismatic young stars right out of Central Casting and a new manager in Aaron Boone replacing Joe Girardi, the soap opera knows as the 2018 Yankee telecast should be as entertaining as any primetime drama, comedy or cop show.

a man holding a baseball bat: Aaron Judge © (Getty Images) Aaron Judge

"As much as people talk about ‘This is Us,' I can't ever remember a ticker tape parade for ‘This is Us.’ They will have one for the Yankees if they win the World Series. It's a whole different level when it comes to emotion, engagement, loyalty, drama. It's all there," he said.

The Damn Yankees are viewed by many as the Evil Empire. But the humble way homegrown stars like Judge went about their business last season somehow made the Yankees, yes the Yankees, lovable underdogs.

They won't be underdogs this season after almost knocking off the Astros. But if New York sports fans are looking for a championship contender, the Yankees might be the only game in town.

With the Mets, Giants, Jets, Knicks and Nets in rebuilding mode, the Baby Bombers should draw even more fan and media attention this season, especially if Judge and Stanton go head to head in the home run race the way Mantle and Maris did in 1961.

Sorry Yankees-haters. Just when you thought the Evil Empire was finished, it is back from the dead and poised to take over New York again.

"Advertisers are lining up. They’re paying higher rates. They’re giving us bigger shares of their business. And we are going to capitalize," Levinson said.

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