Pittsburgh is still a football town, even when the Steelers aren't playing

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No, the Steelers aren't in the playoffs. But Steelers fans are still paying attention.

Television ratings for the NFL playoffs in Pittsburgh outpace most other markets in the country, even though the Steelers' playoff hopes died on the last day of the regular football season.

Of the top 20 television markets that don't have an NFL team still in contention, Pittsburgh had the fourth-highest viewership during last weekend's playoff games, according to Nielsen Media Research. It also finished in the top half of markets during the wild card playoff weekend Jan. 4-5.

"We love it," said Jim Lapiana, general manager of WPGH, the local Fox affiliate.

And why wouldn't he?

Bigger ratings mean his network can charge more for advertising spots. And National Football League playoff games are a great lead-in for other network programming, which also means more chances for advertising revenue.

Football typically is the highest-rated TV event each week in most major markets throughout the country. Still, the eight playoff games of the past two weekends had the highest ratings of any broadcast in the Pittsburgh market, and those numbers outpaced most markets in America.

"Pittsburgh is a good sports town in general," said Chris Pike, general manager of KDKA, the local CBS station. "While viewership is obviously the highest for Steeler games and for playoffs that the Steelers are involved in, the performance of non-Steeler games -- both the regular season and playoffs -- probably rival the ratings for most home team games in most markets."

Women help drive the numbers locally, Mr. Lapiana said, because they watch NFL football in high numbers, even when the Steelers aren't playing.

"More women are involved here in the sport than in other markets because of the dominance of the hometown team and the understanding of the sport in general," he said. "Probably more families watch the sport collectively in this market, which I assume attributes to the higher percentage of viewership."

While fans in Pittsburgh watch more football than in most other cities, Steelers viewership dropped this season by 14 percent, according to the Sports Business Journal. The decline in viewership is directly related to the team's on-field struggles.

Despite the drop, the Steelers still earned the sixth-best local market ratings of all 32 NFL teams.

CBS owns broadcast rights for the AFC playoffs, and Fox owns the rights to televise the NFC playoffs, although NBC broadcasts a pair of wild card games each year. While ratings have been high for this year's playoffs, KDKA certainly misses having the chance to broadcast a Steelers playoff game.

The Denver Broncos-San Diego Chargers divisional round playoff game Sunday drew a 24.8 rating on the network and a 38 share -- meaning 24.8 percent of all TVs in the Pittsburgh market were tuned in and 38 percent of all TVs in use at the time were tuned in to the game.

By any account, those numbers would make a TV executive swoon, and Mr. Pike at KDKA isn't complaining.

But those numbers pale in comparison to the last time the Steelers played a playoff game.

In 2012, the Steelers-Broncos wild card game featuring quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Tim Tebow drew a 56.2 rating and 77 share for the CBS broadcast in the Pittsburgh market.

"Thankfully we haven't had too many years when the Steelers weren't involved in the playoffs," Mr. Pike said. "Most years they are. ... It's a big football town."

Turns out, it's not just football.

Pittsburgh was also one of the top markets in National Hockey League's Winter Classic viewership for the Jan. 1 event -- although the Penguins were not in it. The game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs drew a 7.0 rating in Pittsburgh, the third highest U.S. market behind Detroit and Buffalo.

ESPN also recently ranked the Pittsburgh market as 16th-best for college football viewership in the country, with most of that viewership unrelated to the University of Pittsburgh.

The AFC and NFC championship football games this Sunday will be sure to send TV ratings soaring once again.

The matchups between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots -- and quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady -- and between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks are projected to produce huge ratings nationwide.

"Obviously we'd prefer a Roethlisberger-Manning or a Roethlisberger-Brady matchup," Mr. Pike said. "But I think a Manning-Brady matchup will do just fine."

Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1969 and Twitter @msanserino.

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