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Mediocre Red Sox not hurting NESN’s ratings

Will viewers continue to tune in if Adrian Gonzalez and the Red Sox falter in the second half?

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Will viewers continue to tune in if Adrian Gonzalez and the Red Sox falter in the second half?

The Red Sox’ first-half performance may have been disappointing to their fans, but that hasn’t discouraged them from reliably tuning in.

NESN’s game telecasts are averaging a 7.5 household rating this season, according to information provided by the network and confirmed via Nielsen Media Research. The telecasts are averaging a viewership of 224,000 P2+ (people 2 years and older) per night.

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The steady ratings are encouraging for the regional sports network, and somewhat surprising given the ball club’s mediocre first-half (43-43 record) and some residual frustration among the fan base from last September’s colossal collapse.

At approximately this point last season, NESN had the fourth-best local rating in major league baseball with a 7.7. While it’s uncertain where this season’s 7.5 rating ranks among big league teams, it would be a safe and probably conservative estimate to presume it’s among the top 10.

Last season’s midseason ratings represented a 22 percent improvement from the same point in 2010, when the Red Sox had dipped to a 6.25 average rating at the All-Star break.

Considering the tremendous optimism regarding the Red Sox entering the 2011 season with pricey new acquisitions Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford arriving to pique interest (that feels like a long time ago, no?), it’s impressive that the midseason numbers are nearly equal a year later during a season in which the Red Sox began with one win in their first six games and have been plagued by injuries and inconsistency.

Whether the ratings are sustainable largely depends upon whether the team begins to play up to its ability, and with a difficult schedule immediately ahead, answers may come by the end of the month.

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The Red Sox face the Yankees as well as other high-profile opponents such as the Rays, Rangers, Tigers, and Kevin Youkilis’s White Sox this month. The best single-game rating of the season so far came last Friday, when a 10-8 loss to the Yankees delivered an 11.3 household rating in the Boston market.

It’s hard to imagine NESN approaching the monstrous ratings of its 2004-09 heyday, when it topped MLB for six straight years in local ratings, but should the team show signs of progress coming out of the break, this season’s current high number could be surpassed multiple times.

And should the mediocrity continue, chances are it will eventually be reflected in the ratings.

Dialing it up

A few leftover ruminations from this week’s news that WEEI (second, 7.1 share) topped 98.5 The Sports Hub (fourth, 6.0) in the spring Arbitron ratings:

 Last spring, riding the wave of the Bruins’ Stanley Cup run and generally featuring the more knowledgeable hosts about the team, 98.5 The Sports Hub finished first overall (8.8 to WEEI’s fourth-place 5.6) in the ratings, taking the top spot in morning and afternoon drive and during evenings. A year later, WEEI, which began simulcasting on 93.7 FM last September, gained the upper hand in the spring quarterly at least in part to the Celtics’ prolonged and compelling run to the Eastern Conference finals, with an assist to hosts (specifically Michael Holley) and a deep guest list that provided real insight.While the station with the higher ratings always tends to emphasize that its numbers are generated by content and personalities rather than which teams’ games air on its station, it’s also apparent the last two springs that a particular team catching a fan base’s fancy can have a significant impact on ratings for that team’s rights-holder.With the tumultuous Red Sox, on WEEI, beginning the second half of their season Friday and the Patriots, on 98.5, kicking off the preseason soon, it will be fascinating to see how it plays out in the next quarterly ratings period, which will cover June 21-Sept. 12.

 Personnel at 98.5 weren’t exactly surprised by the outcome; one industry source said they were told by management after the Bruins’ playoff exit, one day before the spring quarterly began, that there may be a storm to weather in the spring regarding WEEI’s ratings. With morning-drive program “Toucher and Rich’’ and midday program “Gresh and Zo’’ finishing ahead of their WEEI counterparts — Gresh and Zo by a 10th of a point — there was some sense that it had been weathered.

 Make no mistake, WEEI’s resurgence is legitimate. While 98.5’s ratings have been more volatile over the past year, WEEI has essentially sustained or improved its numbers in several dayparts over the past three quarterlies. For instance, “Dennis and Callahan’s” morning drive ratings were a 7.3 this spring, a 7.6 in the winter, and a 7.8 last fall. While “Toucher and Rich,” typically the most entertaining show in the market, has consistently beaten them, it did dip from a 10.9 last fall to an 8.0 this spring. And in afternoon drive, the improved “The Big Show,” which no longer feels like it should be called “The Big Show starring Glenn Ordway (and featuring special guest Michael Holley),’’ is up .9 of a share point since last fall, while 98.5’s “Felger and Massarotti’’ is down 3.8 share points in the same span.

Poor appearance

The only purpose ESPN served by putting beleaguered analyst and former Nittany Lions linebacker Matt Millen on the air Thursday morning in the immediate aftermath of the damning Freeh Report was putting a pathetic face on those in Penn State denial.

“There’s so much, it’s hard to process,’’ Millen said at one point, and one wondered whether he’d even begun to read the report before going on camera.

It was only hard to process for those apologists hoping the report would offer any glimmer of hope that disgraced legend Joe Paterno would be absolved.

For those of us not warped by fame, football, and a phony culture, no further processing was required after Louis Freeh, the former FBI director who led the investigation, said this at his press conference in which he detailed how Penn State had dealt with reports then-assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had sexually abused young boys:

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State. The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”

Millen needs to put away his yearbook and his class ring and read that quote a few times until he “processes’’ it.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at GlobeChadFinn.

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