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YANKEES GUARANTEE GOOD RATINGS FOR SERIES IN WNY

The Yankees win, the Yankees win, the Yankees win. In Western New York anyway.

While the Philadelphia Eagles' victory over the New York Giants on Monday night had a higher rating than the New York Yankees' American League series-clinching victory nationally, it was another story locally. In Buffalo, the Yankees won.

And so did Fox. With the league championships ending in five games and the World Series possibly running into November, the network needed to catch a break.

Not only are the Yanks the best-known team in baseball, the events of Sept. 11 in New York City give the games being played in Yankee Stadium a particular poignancy.

In his toast to his team after Monday's clinching victory over the Seattle Mariners, Yankees manager Joe Torre alluded to the tragedy as a motivating factor.

Fox needed the Yanks after Arizona defeated Atlanta for the National League title. A young franchise without tradition, the Diamondbacks aren't much of a national draw even though they have two of the best pitchers in baseball, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.

An Arizona-Seattle series looked like a ratings disaster on the East Coast. The delay in the Series caused by Sept. 11 is an unknown factor in how the Series will play with Nielsen, but Fox executives are guaranteeing that it will beat last year's Yanks-Mets series.

The Series would seem to benefit from the networks' changing weekend strategy this season. Game One tonight should draw a decent audience since all the networks except CBS have abandoned original programming on Saturdays. Game Two also should do well Sunday because Fox won't be competing with its popular Sunday lineup. Game Three in Yankee Stadium on Tuesday has tough competition. It airs opposite popular network series and Michael Jordan's regular-season debut with the Washington Wizards against the New York Knicks on TNT. But the first game in New York should be must-see TV.

A seventh game Nov. 4 in Arizona would really be a test of the popularity of the national pastime on the first Sunday of the November sweeps.

One thing is certain. The Yankees' involvement is a huge bonus for Channel 29, the local Fox affiliate.

"Far and away, the Yankees are the most popular team in the Buffalo market," Channel 29 General Manager Don Moran said. "Seattle would have been difficult. All the casual fans will follow the Yankees."

The Yanks' popularity here is illustrated by its local radio and TV contracts. WGR-AM carried about 130 Yankees games during the regular season. WNLO-TV, the new station run by WIVB's owners, televised a package of 50 Yankees games this season. It was a one-year deal.

"It did fine, revenue was fine, ratings were what we expected," WNLO General Manager Lou Verruto said.

But he isn't certain if the station will renew the deal. He suspects that the new syndicator will reduce the number of games available to 20 or 25. Verruto wasn't pleased that the games often delayed or pre-empted the station's 10 p.m. news.

"Our feeling is the news is more important than the Yankee games," Verruto said. Renewal, he said, "will depend on what the offer is."

ESPN Radio's coverage of the Series is on WWKB-AM, not WGR. Jon Miller does play-by-play. Buck Showalter, the analyst, is a former manager of the Yankees and Diamondbacks.

All Flutie, all the time

Of course, the World Series takes a back seat locally to the Bills game in San Diego on Sunday with ex-Bills quarterback Doug Flutie and his Buffalo West teammates.

Lesley Visser, a Boston College graduate who covered Flutie during his glorious college career at her alma mater, taped a piece Wednesday with the San Diego Chargers quarterback for Sunday's "NFL Today" on Channel 4. It's about, well, you know what it's about.

"Doug said he would have deep satisfaction from winning this game," Visser said. "He said he still loves Buffalo wings more than Mexican food."

She added that Flutie took the high road and wasn't critical of Rob Johnson.

Trevor Matich, the CBS analyst for the Chargers-Bills game, was a teammate of Flutie with the New England Patriots. What did he think of the Bills decision to keep Johnson?

"I think they made the right decision," Matich said. "Either way, it would have been right or wrong. There were positive reasons to keep either guy."

He believes that though Flutie has had more success, his age would have lowered his upside on a Bills team that is the youngest in the league and might not be in its prime until he is gone.

"With Rob Johnson, the upside is he is very talented and he has all the things you want in a quarterback -- he is courageous, athletic, has good instincts and he's 28," Matich said.

Matich added that if Johnson is able to perform reasonably behind the Bills' battered offensive line, the team will realize it doesn't have to go to free agency to find its quarterback.

"The Bills have a bird in hand (in Johnson), let's see if he can fly," Matich said.

Matich wouldn't speculate on whether the Bills' record would be better with Flutie.

"But if the record was the same and they kept Flutie, there might be a little less fire and heat (on him than there is on Johnson)," Matich said.

San Diego's victory over Denver on Sunday didn't quite display as much Flutie ratings magic as expected. It had a 13.1 rating on Channel 4, the lowest number for a Chargers game on WIVB-TV this season, even though it had a 4 p.m. start and the weather was bad enough to keep people indoors.
e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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