If you ever question the Bay Area's appetite for football television . . . well, then you must be new around this here sports cafeteria.

I present for your consideration the events of last Thursday night. The 49ers opened their preseason schedule. Starters played one series against Denver. The rest of the evening was a largely miserable slog, ending in a meaningless 10-6 victory by the Broncos.

And the Bay Area scarfed it up the way Joey Chestnut inhales hot dogs on the Fourth of July.

The game drew a 12.9 overnight rating on Channel 5 (KPIX), according to a station representative. One ratings point equals approximately 25,020 households, so that 12.9 rating translates to 322,822 homes.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) runs the ball in the first half of a preseason game against the Denver Broncos at Candlestick Park in
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) runs the ball in the first half of a preseason game against the Denver Broncos at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

For perspective, that's more local households than watched the NCAA basketball championship game last April -- or watched any of the A's playoff baseball games last October.

Among those not shocked by this news was Ted Griggs, president of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (CSN), the market's major carrier of sports programming. Griggs' cable operation is on a tremendous roll, with soaring prime-time ratings. Many Giants game broadcasts on given nights this season ranked No. 1 among all competition -- including the entertainment programming on other networks.

However, there are no NFL game broadcasts on CSN. Griggs knows what that means for the next six months.


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"Football as a single event is always going to be a ratings blockbuster," Griggs said. "Baseball is kind of a long thread that runs through your life, more of a marathon runner. Football is like a sprinter, a Usain Bolt. It draws that burst of attention."

Yes, but even for an exhibition game? The play-by-play man for Thursday's broadcast, KPIX sports director Dennis O'Donnell, admits he blinked twice Friday morning when he saw the overnight rating -- highest for a local exhibition game in seven years.

"But I think there were a few factors at work," O'Donnell said. "The Giants had played a day game Thursday, so there was no on-air sports competition with them. Another factor was, the team's coming off the Super Bowl. And lastly . . . it's NFL football."

Translation: No matter what the other local franchises do, the NFL will always be king in NorCal. Yet I strongly sense that the Bay Area is eager to diversify its sports interests -- and I recently decided to check out my theory. With assistance from Nielson Media Research, I assembled the top ratings for all sports events broadcast in the Bay Area between July 1, 2012, and July 1 this year. (See accompanying charts.)

The findings were fascinating, if not stunning. Among the revelations:

  • During that 12-month window, even with the London Olympics drawing major eyeballs, 13 of the 25 most-watched events in the Bay Area were indeed NFL games. Eleven of those 13 games involved the 49ers. Two involved neither the 49ers nor the Raiders -- who had a lousy season and didn't break into the top 25 most-watched events.

  • Despite that, the Raiders' highest-rated regular-season game (against the Chargers in September, with 433,875 households watching) surpassed any Warriors or A's or Sharks playoff telecast.

  • A new development is how so many other sports and teams have boosted their ratings and become factors. When I conducted a similar survey several years ago, the list of 25 most-watched Bay Area events were all football games. But the Giants' two World Series championships have clearly made a difference. All four Series games from last October made the top 10. By the same token, last season's regular-season 49ers-Patriots prime-time broadcast drew a larger audience than any of the Giants' postseason games except for the Series.

  • Another eye-opener was the immense bump in Warriors interest. During April, the NBA team's regular-season game ratings on CSN were up 288 percent over the previous year. During the week of May 12, three of the Bay Area market's top seven rated programs -- on broadcast or cable -- were Warriors playoff games. One of them actually tied "American Idol" as the week's top program in the market, with 316,000 total viewers.

    Griggs: "Basketball has always been kind of a sleeping giant. We can see what happens when the Warriors are good. Lord knows what they'll do, ratings wise, when they get great."

  • There was also one notable viewing victory for basketball over the football monster -- albeit at the college level. The NCAA basketball title game between Louisville and Michigan drew a larger local rating (10.28 with 257,695 households) than did the BCS Championship football game between Notre Dame and Alabama (9.60 and 240,261 households).

    The most watched college game in the Bay Area was Stanford's Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin (12.34 and 308,838).

  • Sharks playoff broadcasts were up as much as 36 percent over a year ago in the coveted Men 18-34 demographic. But the hockey team and soccer Earthquakes' ratings still lag markedly behind the other pro sports.

  • The Olympic telecasts last summer that featured women's gymnastics and swimming -- on tape delay no less -- performed spectacularly. Those telecasts finished in the top 17 and out-rated all but seven 49ers games locally.

    Do we currently live in a golden age of Bay Area sports viewing? Based on these ratings numbers, I won't argue otherwise. The Bay Area has a reputation as a mellow sports region without as much rabid fan intensity as, say, Boston or Chicago. Griggs doesn't necessarily buy that concept, if local franchises are winning.

    "I don't think we'll ever embrace a 'lovable losers' team, the way that Chicago fans do with the Cubs," Griggs said. "We live in a place with the most expensive houses, the highest taxes . . . We expect our teams to be good and entertaining."

    And watchable. Mostly, watchable

    (Full disclosure: I appear as a compensated guest on some CSN programming, receiving a three-figure monthly paycheck. I promptly spend it on my cable package to watch still more sports.)

    Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.