NBC closed out its sixteen-year run with the NHL with modest ratings for the Stanley Cup Final series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens, who made their first Final appearance since 1993.
According to Sports Media Watch and Nielsen, the entire five-game series drew an average of 2.43 million viewers, with another 900,000 viewers streaming the series. That’s up 17 percent from last year’s Finals when the Lightning bet the Dallas Stars in six (although the SCF took place in late September) but down 45 percent from when the St. Louis Blues defeated Boston in six, which took place in the more traditional late May-early June window.
Overall, the 2021 Stanley Cup Final was a disappointment for NBC and NBCSN, scoring the lowest numbers since the 2007 Final between Ottawa Senators and the Anaheim Ducks. But this was expected given this was the last year for NBCUniversal as a rightsholder, and the Final took place later than usual due to the delayed start of the season as the networks really had no incentive to promote the league. Next year, NHL rights head to Turner Sports and Disney, whose ABC will carry all seven Stanley Cup Final games. Meanwhile, NBCSN, who carried the bulk of NHL games for the last sixteen years is going dark at the end of the year. The three highest-rated Cup finals for NBC/NBCSN all involved the Blackhawks (2010, 2013, 2015.)
On the bright side, ratings were up from last September Final, and the numbers earned were basically a little bit below what prime-time shows earn these days on the broadcast networks – if you can call that a “bright side”.
In full, the Stanley Cup Playoffs airing on NBC, NBCSN, USA, and CNBC drew a little over one million viewers on average, with streaming numbers included.
In Tampa-St. Petersburg, Game 5 drew a 15.6 household rating for Nexstar-owned WFLA-TV, but well below the Lightning’s first Cup clincher on Scripps-owned ABC affiliate WFTS (28.4) – which was on a weaker UHF signal in the analog era. Moreover, the number was also far below what the Buccaneers did in Super Bowl LV (52.3 for Tegna-owned CBS affiliate WTSP), with Tom Brady winning his seventh Super Bowl Championship and giving the region its third championship in a year.
Game 5 drew 3.6 million viewers for NBC.
In Canada, SportsNet’s coverage of the series drew an average of 3.6 million over five games, airing over the CBC and claims it was the most-viewed Stanley Cup finals series in Canadian TV history. SportsNet took over broadcast rights for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Hockey Night In Canada in 2014, and sub-leases the games to the public broadcaster. Even though numbers for French-language cable network TVA Sports weren’t available (an unofficial tally pegged it at around 1.5 million), the Final reached 26 million viewers nationwide through the three networks.