When Howard Levinson of YES Network walks home at night to his Manhattan apartment, he can literally follow the progress of the New York Yankees game by checking TV sets through the windows of crowded local bars.
Like many TV executives, the experience frustrates, Levinson, the senior vice president of ad sales for the nation’s most-watched regional sports network.
Consumers now spend half of their waking hours away from home, according to Nielsen Media Research. Levinson has long desired a better way to measure “out of home” viewing of Yankees fans in bars, restaurants, gyms and vacation pads, rather than traditional in-home viewing. He’s about to get his wish.
Starting this season, YES will utilize Nielsen’s Portable People Meters (PPM) to better measure Yankees audiences and ratings as well as the network’s other programming. These pager-like devices track what TV and radio stations the wearer is listening to outside of their Nielsen metered homes.
Based on a season-long test of PPM in 2019, Levinson predicts TV audiences for Yankees games will rise by 40% in 2020. He also predicts a roughly 40% boost in the advertiser-coveted demographic of viewers 25-54 years old.
“For the first time, we will get the value that we thought we were giving people all along,” Levinson said. “We’re finally getting credit for out-of-home.”
During the 2019 Yankees season, Nielsen ran dual TV/audiences/rating studies. One incorporated PPM’s. The other study did not.
Yankees games in primetime, excluding out-of-home viewing, averaged 315,000 viewers. When PPM’s were incorporated, that number went up 35% to 431,000 viewers per game.
Across all games, Yankees’ viewership on YES would have been up 41% when tracked with PPM’s. The increase was even higher, 56%, among viewers 25-54 years old.
The test also showed that the Yankees on YES generated 9.6 billion minutes of consumption utilizing PPM’s, up 41% from 6.8 billion minutes consumed with Local People Meters (LPM’s).
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Bigger audiences lead to higher ad revenue. Levinson confirmed YES has already boosted its advertising rates for the 2020 Yankees season.
Marketers and ad agencies reflexively recoil at rate increases. But given the strong interest in the Yankees following the signing of ace pitcher Gerrit Cole, nobody’s walking away from the table either, according to Levinson.
“It’s always a negotiation. Nobody says, ‘Here’s a blank check, take whatever you want.’ But I think they’re finally seeing the value that was there all along,” he said.
Media expert and Forbes contributor Brad Adgate said YES’s 40% growth prediction “seems to be a little high.”
However, he said there’s little doubt YES will see a boost in audience and ratings, particularly with younger viewers, once it’s able to sell against out-of-home viewing.
Meanwhile, ad sales will also depend on how well the Yankees and Brooklyn Nets are playing, Adgate noted.
“The big challenge is how can YES monetize that?” he asked. “Are advertisers willing to pay extra with new OOH viewing data suddenly measurable?”
The Yankees and YES have always suspected their TV audience was more upscale than they got credit for. Many Yankees fans are affluent business professionals who own second homes in the Hamptons and other vacation areas, noted Levinson. The PPM’s will enable YES to follow these viewers as they move from home to home.
Madison Avenue loves to target upscale audiences. The additional data could help YES reach new advertisers while retaining existing ones.
“That’s the thing about advertisers, you want to be associated with a brand like that, right?” asked Levinson. “It’s not just a one-year thing with the Yankees. Advertisers want to be there for the long haul. You get this association of being with a winner. And that’s what the Yankees provide.”
With the Yankees winning the American League East, and Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving both signing with the Nets, YES posted record ad revenue in 2019, according to Levinson.
He declined to comment on total ad revenue except to say sales rose “double digits.” He predicted a similar increase for 2020.
With 7,100,300 homes, the New York TV market is the largest in the country, according to Nielsen. The Los Angeles Designated Market Area (DMA), ranks second with 5,276,660 homes.
The Yankees open their 2020 season on March 28.