Preseason TV ratings show why Pittsburgh is a Steelers town

Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE

If there was ever any question that the Steelers are the top draw and totally ingrained in the fabric of Western, Pa., the local TV ratings for preseason games, which outdraw regular and postseason games involving the Penguins and Pirates, leave no doubt.

Since the Penguins have become such a hot ticket in Pittsburgh in recent years, complete with some of the best hockey players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evegeni Malkin as well as a consecutive sell-out streak that dates back to the 2007 season, people (die-hard Pens fans) often bring up the possibility of the local hockey team someday surpassing the local football team in terms of popularity.

It is an interesting debate, no doubt, but perhaps it's a debate that can quickly be put to bed with the fact that the Steelers don't have a sell-out streak that dates back to the 2007 season. They have a sell-out streak that pre-dates the conclusion of the Vietnam War.

That certainly could end the discussion, but in all fairness to the Penguins, their streak is rather new, and we all have to start somewhere.

OK, what about Twitter followers? After all, it's pretty common knowledge that the Penguins have been marketing to a younger crowd (Student Rush ticket program) and nothing says new, hip and trendy better than Twitter.

As of right now, the Steelers official Twitter account has over 570,000 followers as opposed to 410,000 for the Penguins. That's actually a pretty respectable number of followers for the hockey team, considering the NHL isn't nearly as popular a sports brand as the NFL--at least in the continental United States. However, coach Tomlin just signed up for Twitter a couple of weeks ago, and he already has 82,000 followers, or over twice as many as Crosby, the number one hockey player in the world and the face of the NHL, and Tomlin never tweets anything worth retweeting--every tweet is like an answer to a question at a Tuesday press conference, but with the occasional "Smiley Face" (OK, maybe not).

Yeah, but anyone can follow someone on Twitter, right? I mean, even Grumpy Cat has over one million followers, so perhaps that's not the best barometer to determine team popularity.

Maybe the best barometer to demonstrate just how ingrained the Steelers are in the fabric of Western, Pa. is good-old fashioned television ratings.

For their just concluded 2013 season, the Penguins boasted the highest local ratings for all U.S. based NHL and NBA franchises for the second straight season--a testament to how well the team has been marketed and just how passionate Pittsburgh sports fans truly are. However, the 12.66 rating for Root Sports, the station that holds the rights to broadcasts Penguins games, locally, doesn't even begin to put a dent in the ratings for the Steelers/Eagles preseason telecast from August of 2011.

The game, televised on Fox, scored a 29.1, locally. I don't necessarily understand ratings numbers, but I do know that 29 is greater than 12.66.

You might say that's an unfair comparison, considering Root Sports is a cable network only available on expanded basic, while Fox is available to just about anyone with a television and simple basic cable.

I guess I can give you that. However, how do you explain this? If you clicked on that link, you would know that Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Penguins and Bruins in early June helped NBC tie a playoff record (for non-Cup games). And locally, the game drew a rather impressive 23.2 rating.

No surprise that such an important game drew big ratings in Pittsburgh. What could be more interesting to local viewers than a dramatic NHL playoff game? How about a preseason game involving the Steelers and Colts in August of last year, also on NBC, that drew more viewers and helped the network win the ratings battle for the evening?

Since the Pirates are doing so well this year, it's only natural that some of their die-hard fans have chimed-in on the popularity subject: "I truly believe Pittsburgh is a baseball town before it's a football town." That's what some Pirates fan told me pretty recently. That statement may have had merit in, say, 1973, but in 2013, with their record setting 16.37 rating for the double-header against the Cardinals last week, the Buccos have a long way to go to catch the Steelers (although, they may be able to pry the long-held number two spot away from the Penguins).

Sorry, Penguins and Pirates supporters. When it comes to which team is number one in Pittsburgh, the Steelers only need to suit up some guy named Guy Whimper in August in order to whip Sidney Crosby and Andrew McCutchen.

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