- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 11, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - One bright side to all those empty seats behind home plate visible on television at the new Yankee Stadium: At least there are plenty of people seeing them from home.

Viewership for the Yankees’ YES Network is off to a record start. The channel averaged its best rating ever for April and May, a 4.5 to beat the 4.39 from last year that set the previous high.

Those numbers suggest there’s a lot of interest in the Yankees and their new stadium _ and that some of those fans may be priced out because of the skidding economy, the expensive tickets, or both.

In the rest of the country, though, the recession doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact so far on TV ratings for local broadcasts of Major League Baseball games.

The average rating for all teams through May 24 was a 3.2, no different from the same period last season, according to The Nielsen Company. The average audience increased slightly from 76,000 to 77,000 households, Nielsen said. Average attendance is down about 6 percent across the league.

Ratings represent the percentage of all homes with televisions in a market watching a broadcast.

The ratings for nationally televised games on ESPN and Fox are down slightly from last season.

MLB chief operating officer Bob DuPuy said the steady ratings suggest that the decline in attendance is due to the economy, not a decrease in fan interest.

“I think we would be concerned if they saw a drop in both attendance and in TV viewership suggesting there was some disconnect or some lack of affinity,” he said.

The fluctuations in attendance and TV ratings vary so much from team to team, few patterns emerge. Baseball offers enough affordable tickets that being priced out isn’t an issue in most markets, said John Weber, the Phillies’ vice president for sales and ticketing operations.

For clubs off to particularly good or bad starts, attendance seems to lag behind ratings _ whether the numbers are headed up or down. Local cable ratings for the Texas Rangers, for instance, were up nearly 44 percent, according to Nielsen. Attendance was up 14.5 percent through last week.

“When you have a good start, the TV comes first,” Weber said, “then that’s followed by the ticket sales.”

This economy will test that.

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