It hasn’t been a great overall season for the NHL, as its sporting peers (NFL, MLB,and NBA) are taking advantage of the live viewing phenomenon, as more and more marketers sink money into DVR-proof programming, or as they call it, “live TV”.
For one, the recent Stanley Cup Playoffs were a ratings bust, particularly after the elimination of the Chicago Blackhawks – leaving mainly no-name teams. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup for the first time in seven years, defeating the Sharks in game 6 Sunday night.
And none of the playoff teams came from Canada, which saw none of its NHL franchise qualify for the postseason for the first time since 1970.
It all added up to the least-watched Stanley Cup Final in years. The Pittsburgh Penguins-San Jose Sharks drew a lackluster 2.3 household rating and only 3.9 million viewers, down 28 percent in ratings from last year when the Blackhawks were in the final. Only the 2006 (Edmonton Oilers-Carolina Hurricanes) and 2007 (Anaheim Ducks-Ottawa Senators) finals ranked lower. Among adults 18-49, the series drew a 1.4 rating, down 22 percent from last year. The number actually outdrew the season average for many broadcast prime-time shows such as Agents of SHIELD – but that’s not really saying anything.
In fact, the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs were down 14 percent from a year ago on NBC’s family of networks. And though numbers were not available at press time, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are likely to suffer ratings decline in Canada since no Canadian team made the postseason. Rogers holds the rights to all playoff games.
The numbers prove hockey still has a long way to go to reach ratings parity with its peers in the U.S. While the Chicago Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups in five years, Chicago ranked among the lowest NHL markets for the Stanley Cup Final, as viewers clearly moved on to the red-hot Cubs and the tail-spinning White Sox (who have their own problems trying to get humans to watch or attend their games.)
In fact, the Blackhawks ratings this season (excluding playoffs) actually took a hit, despite the Stanley Cup defense. Ratings for the Chicago Bulls also were down this year, given the sub-par season and failure to make the playoffs. But here’s the difference: while the Hawks have all but vanished from the sports radar in Chicago, the Bulls’ off-court dramas (featuring Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, among others) continue to dominate sports talk radio.
So how did the NHL respond to this bad ratings news? By announcing the league is expanding to Las Vegas in 2017. Wonderful move – can’t wait to go see for the Las Vegas Breeding Stallions or whatever the nickname is to see them play in the Stanley Cup Final in June 2028 when the temperature is 115 outside. Maybe by then the NHL come to some common sense. Or not.