With the coronavirus pandemic wiping out live sporting events, the New York Yankees’ YES Network is doing what every sports network is doing: replaying “classic” games.
But looking to expand beyond that, YES is adding a second-screen experience with Twitter takeovers offering player memories of classic games. On March 30, YES re-aired the Yankees’ Game 6 win over the Atlanta Braves in the 1996 World Series and Game 7 win over the Boston Red Sox in the 2003 American League Championship Series.
And as the games aired, ex-Yankees turned YES analysts David Cone and John Flaherty took to the YES Twitter feed.
During the Yankees vs. Braves telecast, Cone was joined on Twitter by John J. Filippelli, the network’s president of production and programming, who produced that game for Fox Sports 24 years ago.
The so-called “ride-along” strategy may work, it may not, admitted Filippelli. but at least it shows viewers the network is trying new approaches during the coronavirus shutdown of live sports.
“The second-screen experience means so much. Look, everyone has classic games. All these games have been on before. So we are taking games that have aired before – and trying to put a different spin on them,” Filippelli said.
The numbers weren’t high for Monday’s live-tweeting of a 23-year old World Series game. YES averaged around 18,000 viewers, said sources. In comparison, Yankees games on YES averaged 386,000 viewers last season. Still, the network is forging ahead with at least three more “ride-along” telecasts next month.
On April 6, Flaherty will live-tweet a re-airing of the Yankees vs. Red Sox game from 2004 where Derek Jeter famously dove into the stands. Flaherty won that game via a pinch-hit in the 13th inning.
On April 7, YES’ lead play-by-play announcer Michael Kay will live-tweet a rerun of the Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays game from 2011, where Jeter drilled a home run for his 3,000th Major League hit.
Then on April 9, Paul O’Neill and Filipelli will live-tweet a rebroadcast of Game 5 of the 1996 World Series. O’Neill ended that game with a running catch in the outfield.
YES ranks as the nation’s most-watched regional sports network. There are 9 million homes within its Tri-State area footprint. But like all RSN’s, it is heavily dependent on live sports, airing 128 Yankees games per season.
With a massive hole in its programming lineup where live Yankees games used to be, YES is looking to achieve several objectives with its Twitter strategy.
The network is aiming to give viewers a glimpse of what it’s like to be a part of those games, both as a Yankees player and a TV executive in the production truck.
During the re-airing of the 2003 ALCS game, Cone tweeted his memories of O’Neill accidentally kneeing him in the back of the head during the team’s on-field celebration and the night-long party that followed at New York’s Plaza Hotel to celebrate the Bronx Bombers’ first World Series title in 18 seasons.
“It was a big night for the Yankees, a big night for the City of New York,” said Filippelli. “This was a chance for [YES viewers] to relive a great night in the history of the team. And to hear from one of their heroes, David Cone, who won game 3 of that series and who’s been part of their life for 19 years at YES.”
Also that night on Twitter, Filippelli recalled his own decision to replay Yankees catcher Joe Girardi’ triple against pitcher Greg Maddux of the Braves in real speed rather than slow-motion.
“People still say to me, ‘When I think of Joe Girardi, I still think of that triple.’ Because we showed it at real speed. Again, how you chronicle a game is almost as important as the game itself. Because it’s how people are going to remember it- that moment is remembered. And a lot of that is because of that replay. It took the industry to a different place.”
YES also wants to engage younger MLB fans on Twitter, who are more familiar with the experience of scrolling through the social media platform during games.
As Filippelli put it: “Baseball’s always saying, ‘We’ve got to get younger, we want to get younger.’ Well, here you go. Let’s try to get younger – right now.”
The strategy is also designed to support the network’s new, “YES, We’re Here” social media campaign, which shows Yankees players and network talent at home. The Yankees were supposed to open their 2020 regular season on March 26. But their last game was a spring training game on March 12 – the same day MLB indefinitely suspended baseball operations.
It’s “important” for sports networks to stick with their viewers in good times and bad, according to Filippelli, who choked up while talking about friends he’s already lost to the coronavirus.
“This is an extended version of their family. They watch us, they’re with us, they’ve been with us for many years,” Filippelli said. “A lot of people have grown up with us. They need to hear from us in this time of difficulty and need. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”
When the live games return, YES will consider a variation of the ride-along strategy, spokesman Eric Handler said.
Mason Bates, account director of sponsorships and partnerships at Mindshare, predicts more sports networks will use “second-screen” strategies to try to “reinvigorate” old content. Just watching reruns of 20-year old games can get old quickly for even the most diehard of fans.
“Since YES is a regional sports network, replays of classic games are already broadcast on the network with the original broadcast audio,” Bates said. “But with this new commentary from the stars who were on the field during the games, they’re giving fans a new perspective.”
No, ride-along telecasts are not in the same ballpark as watching a live game. But they do create a somewhat “new” broadcast experience, added Bates.
“I can see networks continuing to tinker, experiment, and optimize with different ways to deliver content that fans want, while creatively augmenting content from their archives.”