Photos: Elation erupts after last out; Tigers champions of Baton Rouge regional; advance to Super Regionals _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Fans react and reach for a foul ball hit by LSU right field Mark Laird (9) in the fourth inning during the NCAA Division I Baton Rouge Baseball Regional last week.

LSU has ruled the Southeastern Conference — and the nation — in paid baseball attendance for decades.

Now the team can claim the Internet, too.

LSU baseball games this year drew more digital viewers than any other sports event broadcasted on the SEC Network’s online platform, SEC Network-Plus — far outpacing even spring football games.

LSU’s conference baseball games this season averaged nearly 20,000 online viewers per game — tripling the league average of 6,572 for online-only SEC baseball games and leaving Kevin Wagner smiling.

“The SEC was blown away by this. It boggles the mind,” said Wagner, LSU’s assistant athletic director overseeing the school’s SEC Network productions. “Going into this, we all knew the (LSU baseball numbers) were going to be good. I don’t think anybody knew it was going to be that popular.”

The top five most-watched SEC digital events this year were LSU baseball games — including all three games of the Tigers’ series sweep at Alabama. The series finale against the Crimson Tide on April 4 drew 35,843 unique viewers — the most-watched event on SEC Network-Plus, the digital arm of the league’s new TV channel.

“That’s fantastic,” said coach Paul Mainieri, whose team is preparing to host UL-Lafayette in a super regional that begins Saturday. “It fires me up. It motivates us.”

The series opener against Alabama was the second most-watched event at 35,074, and the third game of that three-game set was the fifth-most watched. LSU’s series finale against Kentucky on March 29 (32,987) and Game 2 against Auburn (32,238) on April 11 rounded out the top five.

All of those eclipsed the most-watched spring football game on SEC Network-Plus, Alabama. It got 16,000 viewers, Wagner said.

LSU’s lowest viewership for a game this year — 11,000 against Grambling — was more than the highest-viewed baseball game for any other SEC team, Wagner said. Viewers for LSU baseball spent an average of 85 minutes watching one single game — on the high end of the average time consumed by a unique viewer for a digital broadcast.

“They told me if you get a viewer to watch a digital broadcast for 20 or 30 minutes, you’ve done really well,” Wagner said.

For the past 20 years, LSU baseball has led the nation in paid attendance at more than 10,000 tickets sold. The Tigers can claim the SEC digital title now, too — something that should continue in years to come.

Wagner and a team of about 20 people produced 60 LSU events on SEC Network-Plus this season — 20 more than the league-mandated 40. Every LSU home game that was not televised — 28 of them — was produced on SEC Network-Plus.

Wagner estimates that LSU will produce 70 events in Year 2 of the SEC Network-Plus next season. The school will again broadcast every LSU home baseball game next season that’s not picked up by TV, Wagner said.

More than 360,000 viewers watched the 60 LSU events broadcast digitally, he said. Softball games averaged the second-most viewers behind baseball. Softball drew the second-most viewers in the SEC, as well, with a 1,888 average per game.

Most football and men’s basketball games are not included in the SEC Network-Plus numbers as a majority of those are on TV and not digitally broadcasted.

Cost is a key variable in expanding LSU’s SEC Network-Plus events, Wagner said.

It costs LSU $5,500 to produce each game, he said, and the network only covers $3,500 of that for the first 40 games. It pitches in just $1,500 for SEC Network-Plus games after the 40.

In total, LSU spent $280,000 in production costs on 60 games, and the network covered $149,000 of that.

“There is a considerable expense,” Wagner said. “(Athletic director) Joe (Alleva) and I need to sit down and say, ‘How do we want to spend this money?’ ”

LSU spent about $3.5 million last year in readying for the SEC Network, and the school will spend another $500,000 to $1 million on more upgrades this year, Wagner said.

---

TOP FIVE

The top five most-watched SEC digital events this year were LSU baseball games.

1. LSU at Alabama, April 4: 35,843

2. LSU at Alabama, April 2: 35,074

3. LSU vs. Kentucky, March 29: 32,987

4. LSU vs. Auburn, April 11: 32,238

5. LSU at Alabama, April 3: 31,442

---

BY THE NUMBERS

LSU baseball digital viewers per SEC game: 19,848

SEC baseball digital viewers per SEC game: 6,572 (most of any sport)

Top 5 SEC sports by digital viewership: Baseball, softball, women’s basketball, volleyball

Total digital viewers for LSU’s 60 events produced: 363,851

---

DOLLAR SIGNS

Total events digitally produced by LSU this year: 60

Average cost per event: $5,500

Total cost for all events: $280,000

Personnel working each game: 16

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.