Scott D. Pierce: Jazz ratings were up a bit; Bees aren't in the picture
The Larry H. Miller Group owns the local basketball team. And the local baseball team. It also owns a local television station.
So why are all the Utah Jazz games on TV and none of the Salt Lake Bees games? Not even on KJZZ-Ch. 14?
Because Miller is in business to make money. The Jazz make money on TV. The Bees don't.
That's the way sports work.
Despite the serious tailspin the Jazz went into this past season, their local TV ratings were up slightly from the previous season 1.8 percent.
That's mostly because of strong numbers in the early part of the season. Jazz ratings on ROOT Sports were up 50 percent after 30 games, and the team was 21-9 (.700).
Clearly, a whole lot of those viewers went away over the last 52 games of the season when the team went 18-34 (.346). But, given the season the Jazz had, there was reason to be pleased.
"We ended up being No. 2 overall in the league," said Jeremy Castro, the Jazz's vice president of broadcasting and operations. "We're pretty happy about that."
In a comparison of local TV packages, the Jazz (who averaged a 5.6 rating on ROOT Sports) were second only to the team with the best record in the league. The San Antonio Spurs averaged a 10.1 local rating on Fox Sports Southwest, up a whopping 52 percent over the 2009-2010 season.
But despite finishing out of the playoffs, Utah finished ahead of everyone else in the NBA. That includes the high-profile Miami Heat, who finished third. With the addition of LeBron James, that team nearly doubled its local ratings to a 4.94 on Sun Sports.
(Ratings are a percentage of the households in a given TV market. And the size of TV markets varies greatly 1,580,580 homes in Miami; 953,950 in Salt Lake; 844,910 in San Antonio.)
But the Utah Jazz and the Salt Lake Bees are apples and oranges, not just basketballs and baseballs.
Local viewers will tune in to watch the Jazz. They haven't tuned in to watch the Bees (or their predecessors) when they've aired games in seasons past.
"It didn't work out as we would have hoped," Castro said.
In other words, the ratings were so low it was difficult if not impossible to sell advertising. And because it is "incredibly expensive to produce live sports," the Bees on TV were a losing proposition.
Clearly, it would be prohibitively expensive to telecast all 144 games in a season. It would be prohibitively expensive to telecast all 72 home games.
"But it's hard to produce just a sporadic number of games," Castro said. "In order to garner an audience that cares about a program, there has to be consistency."
"It's like, do you do one every home stand? Do you do one every month? What games do you pick?"
This is, after all, minor league baseball. And that's not criticism of Triple-A baseball or of local viewers. Minor league baseball is just a different animal than the NBA.
On TV, the Bees would compete with hundreds of major league games. That's tough for a Triple-A team from the Pacific Coast League to go up against.
"It's hard to compete with all that baseball," Castro said. "That doesn't mean we won't do it in the future. But in terms of local TV, it doesn't make sense in this market."
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. His sports on TV column runs on Wednesdays.