Baseball may be clawing itself back to a semblance of normalcy, but for the New York Mets and their regional sports network, 2021 has been anything but routine. An improbable number of rainouts and COVID-related postponements have left the club scrambling to re-schedule 11 games since the season began, and the interruptions have inflated SNY’s operating costs.
The Amazins have slogged their way through a rainy spring—from Opening Day through the washed-out Memorial Day weekend, New York has had more than 7 inches of precipitation dumped on it, or 24% more wet stuff than the year-ago period—and the eight meteorological postponements have made for a whole lot of unavoidable expenditures for SNY. Toss in the three coronavirus disruptions that marred what should have been the Mets’ opening series against Washington, and there are still seven games that need to be made up.
As a result of the Mets’ bad run of luck, the club has managed to complete just 60 games, well below the league average (67.4) and a good 10 shy of the relatively unblemished Padres, Athletics and Mariners out on the West Coast. NL East rivals Washington have had to reschedule seven games—four thanks to April’s coronavirus outbreak—while the Chicago White Sox have been rained out five times thus far in 2021, and missed a sixth game as a result of an April 16 snow-out in Boston. All told, the MLB average through Wednesday night is 2.9 postponements per team.
Setting aside the COVID postponements, the Mets’ deluge of rainouts is in large part a function of bum luck. Despite sharing the same market, the Yankees thus far in 2021 have been inconvenienced by the weather just once, and that game was made up the very next day as the back-end of a 14-inning double header. (“Let’s play one-and-three-quarters!” — Ernie Banks.) The same dynamic is at work in Chicago, where the AL club’s half-dozen hiccups dwarf the Cubs’ single outage.
The cost of rolling trucks and running cables is not inconsiderable, and even if the game isn’t played, the crew still has to get paid. While advertising revenue can be made up, especially if the postponed game is played within the parameters of a given series, production expenses are a sunk cost. Depending on their home market, RSNs with more than a half-dozen rainouts or other interruptions under their belt effectively have seen hundreds of thousands of dollars get washed away, and through no fault of their own. Gotham-based production pros estimate that SNY has lost anywhere between $400,000 to $500,000 on costs related to those 11 disrupted outings.
If sponsorship dollars generally can be recouped, any prolonged delay can make for a bit of a headache for advertisers airing time-sensitive creative. If you’re running the Sansone Auto Mall out on Rte. 1 and you’re trying to move cars off the lot during Memorial Day weekend, the units you bought in the postponed May 30 Braves-Mets game aren’t going to bear fruit when the two clubs make it up on July 26. Not only has the game you originally targeted been shifted to a completely different financial quarter—one in which your sales objectives are not at all consistent with what you’re trying to achieve during the end of May—but the make-up date also coincides with a period in which TV viewing is at an ebb. Nor is midsummer necessarily the best time to try to sell somebody a Mazda; during the last two pre-pandemic years, national auto sales were 12% lower in July than they were in May.
Which isn’t to say that RSNs are wholly in thrall to advertising with the shelf life of a banana. For example, the Mets’ scotched springtime outings didn’t disrupt marquee backers like W.B. Mason, which in addition to buying in-game spots also sponsors the SNY post-game show. In addition to the obvious advantages of holding the title sponsorship, W.B. Mason’s 30-second branding spots are as relative in October as they are in April, which takes much of the sting out of the Mets’ mercurial schedule. (Despite being based an hour’s drive from Fenway Park, the office-supply company is profligate with its MLB sponsorships; along with W.B. Mason Post-Game Live, which has been a fixture on SNY for the better part of a decade, the company backs similar efforts on YES Network, MASN and back home on NESN.)
Outside of the local auto dealers, most RSN advertisers prefer to traffic in creative that has all the staying power of U.S. Army MRE rations. The sponsor roster tends to be limited as well, as a handful of established clients will often snap up vast swaths of in-game inventory as part of their full-season buys. This was the case long before the RSN era; Yankee fans of a certain age will recall the metronomic deluge of Crazy Eddie, Milford Plaza and Money Store commercials that were as much a feature of WPIX’s coverage as was the Toyota Bullpen Car.
SNY serves approximately 8 million homes in the metro New York market, and 12 million nationwide. The channel’s monthly carriage fee 2022 is projected to reach $4 per sub as of 2022. Per terms of its $1.3 billion, 25-year deal with the Mets, the RSN each season pays some $52 million for the rights to air the games.
If history is any guide, the Mets and the rest of baseball have been through the worst of it, as weather-related postponements become increasingly rare as the season progresses. Across the league, only two games have been rained out in June, and the Amazins have made it through their last 15 outings without having to roll the tarp. Their record over the course of the dry spell is 10-5, and they currently occupy first place in the NL East, with a five-game lead over Philly. Up in the Bronx, the third-place Yankees may want to consider praying for rain.