Ten years ago, with the backing of the New York Mets, Time Warner and Comcast, SNY flipped the switch to enter New York’s channel wars, angling to establish itself amid the passionate sports fray of a city divided in its loyalties. Now, the channel is coming off of a 2015 viewership surge, complete with partnerships that include the New York Jets, UConn and more and availability to viewers throughout New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and northeastern Pennsylvania in addition to national carriage deals. As the new baseball season prepares to take the field, the RSN announced plans to offer viewers more than 125 exclusive Mets games starting April 5 against the Royals. Ron Darling, Keith Hernandez, and Gary Cohen, will return for their 11th season together, with on-field reporter Steve Gelbs.
To celebrate the anniversary, the channel will run special vignettes over on the network and online on March 16 throughout the day showcasing memorable moments from the past ten years, while studio programs such as Daily News Live, Mets Talk Live, and SportsNite will look back with the network’s very first sign on, footage from its first spring broadcast, and more. Cynopsis Sports spoke with SNY President Steve Raab about the journey, the passions and challenges of New York sports fans and how they are tackling changes in media.
Raab on ten years of SNY: I think what feels so good is that when we created the idea for the network, there were some basic tenets about objectivity and being the home for all New York sports, not just the teams that we had partnerships with, and we’ve held true to that. While we are the home of the Mets, we have found the way to serve all fans in this area while super-serving Mets fans. It creates an upside for us as we tap into the Jets, Giants, Yankees, Knicks, Rangers, etc. On the production side, we set out to educate, entertain and inform. When you watch our programming, one of the things that our fans love is that they get something they didn’t know. I’m really proud of that.
On the 2015 Mets season: 2015 was a terrific year for us. It was our 10th Mets season, and not only was it our best ratings since 2010, but it was a tale of two seasons. The season half of the season was so explosive. For the full season we were +60% in households and +80% in key demos and so much of that was driven by the last 60-65 games of the season. That carried over for us outside of the Mets, carrying over to pre- and post-game which had triple digit growth as well as to our studio programming and or Jets programming. Everything was lifted last year and the opportunity to expose content that we were really proud of to a bigger fanbase felt terrific.
On team/ratings correlation: If you think about the 2015 season, the Mets were 52-50 after the first 102 games and there had been an upward-trending year but certainly not explosive until the last third of the season. So when we see the enthusiasm at the beginning of the season this year, we didn’t have this a year ago. We will now get a full year’s benefit from it. We think there is a base there now, and what we’ve seen is that they are watching and watching with greater frequency. We’ll be using the Mets as a promotional platform for our other programming. The other side to that is that we’ve done a pretty good job establishing ourselves as objective and I think fan appreciate that and differentiated us from other networks. There are other networks that, by their own admission, will tell you that they are homers for their own teams. That’s not us.
On the New York fanbase: The New York fan is pretty savvy and really educated. What’s unique in the New York marketplace is that you have at least two of everything, two football teams, two baseball teams, three hockey teams, two basketball teams. They are usually one or the other. In that respect, it heightens the passion that fans bring in that it isn’t just about what’s happening in your division, it is also about what is happening across town with your natural rival. It is a very different vibe because you have so many teams in so many sports. One of the challenges because of that, because we are the home of the Mets, is getting Yankee fans to understand that we are going to be objective and serve Yankee fans with content they might not get elsewhere as a result.
On how streaming is changing the game: I think in some respects, the headlines about cord-cutting are a little louder than what we would necessarily see. We are seeing some of it but what consumers are finding is that there is still an aspect of bundling and choices that certainly work better for them. We’ll see where it levels off. For us, it is about trying to figure out with your distribution partners how we best capitalize on that and try to understand to what degree the market is changing. On the one hand, change is terrific because the technology allows for more opportunity and more flexibility and in-market streaming is a great example of that. On the other hand, that also provides viewers with other flexibility and other opportunities. We’ve been doing business the same way for a long time and we have to figure out what will work best for us.