Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Tuesday, June 16, 2021

Your National Hockey League is on a real roll right now: On the heels of a court victory affirming its control over franchise ownership and relocation vis-à-vis the Coyotes and Jim Balsillie, it got confirmation that the just-completed Stanley Cup playoffs this year featured some of the highest television ratings in 36 years.

NBC’s Game 7 broadcast of the Stanley Cup final between the Penguins and the Red Wings on Friday night drew an average of 8 million viewers, the biggest American television audience for any N.H.L. game since the 9.4 million who watched the Game 6 Cup finale between Montreal and Chicago in 1973…

The size of the Pens-Wings audience is even more impressive, Variety reports, because Friday is customarily the lightest viewing night of the week.

And of course, some head-to-head context with the NHL’s sister league:

Sunday night’s ABC broadcast of Game 5 of the N.B.A. finals, in which the Los Angeles Lakers won the title against the Orlando Magic, attracted an average of 14 million viewers. That means the N.H.L. telecast drew an audience 57 percent the size of the N.B.A.’s. Traditionally in the U.S., N.H.L. games draw from 25 percent to 33 percent of the audience that watches N.B.A. games.

Yup, hockey fans can take pride in the idea that their sport is half as popular as pro hoops! But good news on the TV front is rare enough that this counts as a resounding victory. The Friday night result gives a nice boost to the final average viewership of 5.6 million for the five NBC-broadcasted games.

So how can the league and the network sustain this strong showing into next year? Some of the ingredients from this year can’t be pre-determined:

- Detroit in the Finals, which always pulls in eyeballs;
- Star-player power in the form of Sidney Crosby;
- The year-over-year rematch;
- Game 7 suspense;
- An unusually unchallenged programming night, with not only reruns on the other channels but also a night off for the NBA Finals;

But one key decision from Stanley Cup 2009 can be preserved going forward: The series-opening ratings juice that came from playing Games 1 and 2 on back-to-back weekend nights. You can debate how successful that would have been for NBC had it been, say, Columbus versus Florida. But I’m convinced that it’s the right way to kick off the showcase series of the playoffs: No opening-night pomp, followed by a day or two off for casual viewers to promptly forget about the whole thing. Saturday night served as the lead-in for a returning audience on Sunday, and the ratings momentum remained sustained from there, right through to Game 7’s breakthrough. So that two-game opener schedule will remain in place next year (and beyond).

I’d like to think that this Detroit-Pittsburgh showing will defuse the constant fretting over “large market” versus “small market” in championship TV ratings. Neither city can be truly considered “large market”, so you’d think that the raw viewer numbers wouldn’t measure up. Then again, they never do, unless you have the ideal population-intense New York-Los Angeles matchup, so it’s a pointless concern. These two cities are recognized as storied hockey towns, which probably helped sell the series; the challenge is to apply that pitch to non-traditional teams that might reach the Finals next year.

Finally, it’s refreshing to not hear about how hockey in June allegedly doesn’t work for a national audience. Summertime pucks seems to have found fans this time around.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 06/16/2009 11:41 AM
Category: Basketball, Hockey, SportsBiz, TV
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4 Feedbacks »
  1. Puck Headlines: Wings chronicle their aches; Phoenix fans gloat…

    … since Game 6 between Montreal and Chicago in 1973. Remember that when we’re watching the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes for the Cup next season. [NY Times]

    - Solid ratings breakdown from PopStat. [Population Statistic]

    - Following a team that ….

    Trackback by Puck Daddy - A Y! Sports Blog — 06/16/2009 @ 1:44 PM

  2. “Yup, hockey fans can take pride in the idea that their sport is half as popular as pro hoops!”

    I wonder how that changes if you include Canadian numbers for both sports. I bet, on a North American basis, the viewer totals are fairly close.

    Comment by James Mirtle — 06/16/2009 @ 2:47 PM

  3. @James: Funny, I was pondering that myself separately, also in regards to EA Sports videogames as well. The Canadian base pretty much buoys hockey from a sponsorship/merch angle; the “extra” that comes from the States pushes it to the major-league levels it inhabits.

    Comment by CT — 06/16/2009 @ 3:58 PM

  4. Stanley Cup 2009: Rink Ratings Bonanza…

    From Population Statistic we get a good breakdown of the numbers:

    Gary Bettman must be positively glowing with all the good news. The Courts have temporarily shut out Balsillie, Game 7 draws 8 million viewers and they get to see Sidney Crosby rai…..

    Trackback by Illegal Curve — 06/17/2009 @ 8:14 PM

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