Indiana, PA - Indiana County

JOHN STEIGERWALD: Pens making up ground

on May 05, 2013 3:00 AM

The Penguins are creeping up on the Steelers.

There’s no doubt that the Steelers are still the most popular team in this region and, because there will always be a percentage of people who just refuse to pay attention to hockey, that they always will be.

But the Penguins’ recent spectacular TV ratings are an indication that the gap has narrowed tremendously.

Game 1 with the New York Islanders on Thursday night had a 20.9 rating. Unless you work in TV or advertising, that number may not mean anything to you. One point represents about 12,000 homes.

The Steelers draw somewhere in the high 30s to low 40s for a regular-season game. For the 2013 regular season, the Penguins averaged a 12.56, about a third of what the Steelers get. But there were 48 Penguins games compared to 16 for the Steelers. It’s hard to imagine the Steelers sustaining that 38-42 over 48 games.

Here’s some more perspective courtesy of Sports Business Daily: The Penguins’ 12.56 is the highest for any NHL, MLB or NBA team in the last 16 years. The Seattle Mariners put up a 13.2 in 1997.

The closest to the Penguins since then is the 12.20 for the Boston Red Sox in 2007, when they won a World Series, and baseball’s a pretty big deal in Boston. Looks like hockey’s just as big a deal in western Pennsylvania.

The New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils averaged less than a 0.5 for the 2013 regulars season. The Rangers were thrilled with an increase from an 0.068 last season to a 1.65. They averaged a 1.8 in 1994, when they won the Cup.

The Penguins’ ratings were six times higher than the Rangers, Islanders and Devils combined. Having two NHL teams in Pittsburgh would make more sense than having three in the New York City market. 

That’s a quarter of a million homes and more than half a million people watching hockey. And lots more for all the bars and college dormitories.

• All of those numbers make the Islanders’ win in Game 2 good news for Root Sports. Sweeps aren’t good for their bottom line. They only get so many games before NBC takes over. Ratings in the 20s produce lots of advertising dollars. That won’t make the Pens feel any better about blowing a 3-1 lead Friday night.

Thirty-one years ago the Penguins went to Long Island and lost the first two games of a five-game series by a combined score of 15-3 to a team that had won the previous two Stanley Cups. The team’s owner, Edward DeBartolo, offered refunds to everybody who had bought tickets to Games 3 and 4 in Pittsburgh. The Islanders checked out of their hotel after Game 3 because they knew the Penguins were done, but the Penguins won Game 3 in overtime, won Game 4 and then had a 3-1 lead in the third period of Game 5 on Long Island before losing in overtime. 

The Penguins have been involved in enough of these series for everybody to have learned that you have to look at each game in a vacuum. What happened in Game 1 had nothing to do with what happened in Game 2 and what happened in Game 2 will have no bearing on the outcome of Game 3 except that now the Penguins will be the more desperate team. 

• Former Steelers and current Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace had the distinction of being one of the first pro athletes to tweet something stupid after NBA player Jason Collins anounced he is gay.

There’s no need to repeat his stupid comment and he did delete the tweet almost immediately, but what’s really stupid is the Dolphins’ response. The team issued a statement that said, among other things, “Mike’s comments do not reflect the views of the Miami Dolphins.”

No kidding.

Twitter is going to be around for a long time and players will be tweeting stupid statements because that’s what they do. Is there really anybody on the planet who read Wallace’s tweet and said, “The Dolphins think _____ about gay people?”

Teams don’t send their players out to tweet the organization’s official views on culture and the passing scene. Teams should deal with the player and shut up.

• Wrigley Field is a dump. It may be a shrine and it may be a museum, but as a ballpark it is an outdated dump. There’s a battle going on in Chicago between team owner Tom Ricketts and city government about whether he should be permitted to put an electronic revenue-producing scoreboard monstrosity in the outfield. Believe it or not, Ricketts is willing to spend his own money.

Wrigley Field and Fenway Park in Boston became cherished treasures when teams traded ballparks for cookie-cutter football stadiums like Three Rivers and Riverfront in the ’70s. But, near the turn of the century, the teams got a clue and built ballparks patterned after the ones they tore down.

It would be easy to build an exact replica of Wrigley Field with more legroom and better sight lines.

Hey, they tore down Yankee Stadium. 

Go for it.

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