'Net Sox it to hockey blues

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:13 AM ET

Lockout? What lockout?

If only Rogers Sportsnet could bottle the growing ratings magic being generated by the major league baseball playoffs -- and the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in particular -- for extended use during the darkness that is the current NHL season.

Calling this one of the most significant ratings weeks in the short six-year history of the network wouldn't be too far off the mark, indeed.

"We've had some huge numbers," said Rick Briggs-Jude, Sportsnet's VP of production. "We've got two Game 7s (in the league championship series).

"It doesn't get any better than that."

Actually, it just might, given the fact the network has the World Series on tap, and that the compelling tale of the Red Sox -- 86 years removed from their last championship, as any of their tortured fans can tell you -- still lives on for another week.

BIG AUDIENCE JUMP

That little bit of history, and the Sox' stirring comeback from a 3-0 ALCS deficit against the archrival Yankees, helped Sportsnet's playoff ratings skyrocket this week. Monday's marathon 14-inning Boston win in Game 5 pulled in an average audience of 556,000, with a peak of 900,000.

Then came Tuesday and Game 6, which attracted 863,000 sets of eyeballs -- the second-largest audience in network history.

Until Game 7, that is. Wednesday's audience: 1.144 million, with a peak of 1.359 million during the last half- hour. It was the most-watched event in Sportsnet's six-year existence, surpassing the 914,000 who viewed the Canada-U.S. final of the 2002 world under-19 women's soccer tourney

That's a lot of folks hoping to see the fat-cat Yanks go down, it would seem.

"I'm sure there was a large sentiment out there of 'anybody but the Yankees,' " said David Akande, Sportsnet's VP of programming

But this isn't just about a baseball boom. Not when you consider Sportsnet's Blue Jays average this year was 200,000. Rather, it's what happens when an event -- or a bitter feud, in this case -- transcends sports, and pulls in viewership beyond its usual reach.

"The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is such that even the unwashed baseball fan or sports fan is watching," said Akande. "That's what really is driving this."

The series also steamrolled some rather impressive competition. TSN's popular Monday Night RAW saw its audience dip to 347,000 against Game 5, while CBC's Making the Cut fell to 340,000 (from 615,000 last week) vs. Game 6.

MAJOR TURNAROUND

Consider that less than a week ago, when the Yankees built their 3-0 lead and the Cardinals shot out to a 2-0 edge over the Astros in the NLCS, it looked like Sportsnet might need a lot of filler this week. Now this.

"I don't think anybody in North America was talking about a Game 7 scenario when it was 3-0 (for the Yankees)," said Sportsnet baseball host Jamie Campbell, a former CJOH sportscaster. "But that's the beauty of baseball. Every game is its own mini-drama."

Make no mistake about it, though. Hockey's loss has been Sportsnet's gain this week. And the network will simply enjoy it while it lasts.

"We'll get through all the months we don't have hockey," said Akande. "But with all due respect to the NHL, it will be tough to replace those audience numbers in other months. For now, we can enjoy the fact we've found a home for a lot of viewers (with baseball)."


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