In the wake of the July 30 MLB trade deadline, Yankees fans have resumed making noise about the prospect of October baseball, a notion that seemed all but laughable on Independence Day. The arrival of Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo has helped light a fire under what’s been an underwhelming 2021 Bombers squad; since the two big lefty bats came into the fold two weeks ago, New York has gone on a 10-3 tear—this despite the fact that three starting pitchers and the closer are on the injured list.
As the W’s have piled up, so have YES Network’s TV ratings. Thus far in August, the Yanks have averaged 317,000 viewers on the home RSN, which marks a 21% increase compared to the team’s July deliveries (263,000). That YES has been able to grow its audience in the midst of a league-wide decline is no mean feat—through the first four months of the season, baseball’s local numbers were down 12% versus the analogous period in 2019—but it’s unheard of for an RSN to deliver ratings gains in the teeth of the Summer Olympics.
During the same period, the YES app has experienced a 37% increase in average unique streams and a 17% lift in the amount of time users spend on in-game viewing.
All of which goes a long way toward explaining why Howard Levinson’s phone has been blowing up for the last two weeks. If advertisers weren’t exactly breaking down the door on July 5, when the Yankees were mired in fourth place, 10.5 games behind Boston in the AL East, demand for YES inventory has increased markedly as New York has whittled that gap down to two games.
Levinson, who serves as the senior VP of ad sales at YES, said the Yankees generated a seven-figure revenue haul while the Olympics were in full swing, before adding that the in-game inventory for the remainder of the season is going fast. “We’re still working on some deals for September, but things are getting tight,” Levinson said, noting that advertisers have been quick to respond to the buzz in the Bronx. “If the fans know when they’re looking at a hot streak, the clients are never far behind. Now we’re hearing a lot of, ‘Is it too late for us to jump in?’ and ‘Can we buy the next three weeks?’”
A fair amount of August’s hype has been churned up by Rizzo, who in his first six games as a Yankee notched a .400/.519/.850 slash line, plating a half-dozen RBI and hitting three homers. The 32-year-old’s monster performance was derailed on Saturday, when he tested positive for COVID-19 after going 0-for-4 against Seattle.
In the space of just a week, no fewer than five Yankees were placed in the 10-day protocol, as Rizzo joined catcher Gary Sanchez, ace Gerrit Cole, lefty hurler Jordan Montgomery and reliever Clay Holmes. In mid-July, slugger Aaron Judge and third baseman Gio Urshela were sidelined by the virus; all told, 12 Yankees have contracted COVID since the season began.
While Rizzo has given the Yankees some long-overdue reinforcement in the lefty power-hitter department—that short porch in right field had basically gone to waste before the Cubs dealt their first baseman—Gallo hasn’t made anyone forget Paul O’Neill. In the 12 games since parting ways with the Rangers, Gallo has whiffed 22 times in 53 plate appearances and is batting .156.
If the Yankees are to continue to make a run at one of the AL Wild Card slots—FanGraphics currently has it as a coin flip, projecting New York’s chances of landing in the postseason at 49.5%—they’ll have to win a disproportionate number of their 13 remaining games against Boston and Toronto. And the Yanks certainly would be giving themselves a better shot at the fall if they managed to take the four-game set in Oakland at the end of the month. In the near term, however, New York will look to maintain their August hot streak while fielding a sub-optimal starting lineup.
For all the injuries and breakthrough infections, nearly all of which have been contracted by vaccinated players, the mood in the Bronx is more upbeat than it’s been in months. And for the people watching at home, this revitalized crew is a hell of a lot more fun to watch.
“The fans expect the Yankees to be in it every year, and the advertisers aren’t any different,” Levinson said. “A lot of times it seems as if the GM will make moves at the trade deadline in order to reassure the team that they’re still in it, and that management has given them everything they need to make the push into the fall. This time it seems as if the message was tailored to the team and the fans.”