On the air with Smizik: Penguins a smash TV hit

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Everyone wants to watch the Penguins.

The team is playing to 95 percent capacity at home, and that should get better as the games become more crucial. Away from Mellon Arena, the Sidney Crosby Show also plays to 95 percent capacity, third best in the NHL.

On television, fans in the region can't get enough. The ratings are the best since the 2000-01 season, when the Penguins reached the conference final and had a roster loaded with the kind of talent that turns on TVs -- Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Alexei Kovalev, Martin Straka, Robert Lang and Darius Kasparaitis.

In their game Feb. 4 (Super Bowl Sunday) at Montreal, the Penguins achieved a 7.2 rating, which, for hockey, is off the charts.

FSN Pittsburgh, which carries Penguins games, would not divulge the season-long ratings or compare the Penguins' ratings to those of the Pirates. Steve Tello, vice-president and general manager of FSN Pittsburgh, said: "Team popularity and TV ratings are a roller-coaster ride. We happen to be riding at the top of the curve right now."

Industry sources indicate the Penguins' ratings are, roughly, at the 4.5 level, extremely good for the NHL. The Penguins are believed to be in the upper tier of NHL ratings with Buffalo and Detroit.

Pittsburgh had the second-highest rating for the NHL All-Star Game, which was played Jan. 24 in Dallas and shown on Versus. Nationally, the game drew only a 0.7 rating. But in Pittsburgh it drew a 2.8, twice as large as any city in the league, except Buffalo. The Buffalo ratings were incredible, a 7.1. The Sabres had four players in the game and three starters. Crosby was the Penguins' only representative.

Unfortunately for the NHL, the ratings spike in Pittsburgh and Buffalo, where the All-Star Game was the top-rated cable show that night, and are not being replicated around the country.

The game's 0.7 rating, an estimated 475,000 viewers, was a 76 percent decline from the last game, which was played in 2004. Much of that decline has to do with the network. In 2004, the game was on ABC, which is seen in every home in the country and was viewed by an estimated 1,985,000 households. Versus (formerly the Outdoor Life Network) reaches only a small percentage of the homes.

Although the game did well in Buffalo and Pittsburgh, it was not among the top 20 cable shows in such important markets as New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta. In Dallas, the host city, it was the 18th most-watched cable program.

Playoffs on TV

In the likely event they make it, most Penguins games in the first two rounds of the playoffs will be carried by FSN.

Here's how the NHL playoff coverage works.

In the first round, NBC has the ability to take up to two weekend games for exclusive coverage. All other Penguins games will be on FSN. In the second round, NBC has the right to take two weekend games and Versus has the right to take two games. All other Penguins games will be on FSN.

In all likelihood, no more than one game in each round would be taken from FSN.

After the second round, all games will be on Versus or NBC. Versus is available on the basic package to customers of Comcast, the region's largest cable provider. On Armstrong, the region's No. 2 provider, Versus is available only to digital-plus customers.

No TV, nationally, for Pirates

For the first time since 1989 there will be a full season of baseball games of the week on broadcast television. Fox will carry games for 26 Saturdays beginning April 7. Fox also will carry the All-Star Game, American League Championship Series and World Series.

Some of the games will be carried regionally, which means there will be as many as 72 telecasts. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will meet four times against each other and both will appear a total of nine times. The Chicago Cubs, who finished behind the Pirates last year, also will be shown nine times, as will the Philadelphia Phillies. Teams being shown eight times are the Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.

The Pirates are one of eight teams not scheduled.

Radio on the road

Pittsburgh talk shows will be hitting the road later this month and next month. The week of Feb. 26, Junker and Crow on ESPN Radio 1250, with Guy Junker and Eddy Crow, will be broadcasting from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. from spring training in Bradenton, Fla. From 7 to 9 p.m. the same week, except for a Wednesday pre-emption by Penn State basketball, Ken Laird will be doing Pittsburgh Game Night from Bradenton.

Bendel and Benz, with Joe Bendel and Tim Benz on Fox Sports Radio 970, will be in Florida March 3-6. The first two days, Saturday and Sunday, they will do postgame shows after Pirates exhibition games. The final two days they'll be doing their regular 3 to 7 p.m. show. From Florida, Bendel and Benz go to New York City where they will be heard from 3 to 7 p.m. March 8-9 at the Hotel Pennsylvania across from Madison Square Garden, site of the Big East tournament.


Correction/Clarification: (Published Feb. 15, 2007) An item in this article as originally published Feb. 13, 2007 had an incorrect name for the New York City hotel that would be the site of the Bendel and Benz radio show on March 8 and 9. The correct name is the Hotel Pennsylvania.


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