NHL Celebrates Best 1st Round in Seven Years on Broadcast, 16 Years on Cable

NEW YORK (April 29, 2011) – History was made, on and off the ice, in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The National Hockey League, on the heels of announcing the most significant media rights deal in its history, continues to reach new heights across multiple platforms while earning praise from fans and critics alike.

One of the most exciting and compelling Conference Quarterfinal rounds in Stanley Cup Playoff history, highlighted by nine straight days of overtime games, four Game 7s (the most in the first round in 16 years), and 49 total games (tied for the most ever), led to ratings increases and milestones at both the national and local levels, along with record Internet traffic on NHL.com. The first round, which the New York Times hailed as a round “that had everything,” and a “tough act to follow,” also scored in-arena with every arena at 100 percent capacity, achieving an all-time record for average attendance for the first round.

VERSUS achieved the highest U.S. cable viewership for the first round in 17 years, dating back to the 1994 postseason, while on the broadcast side, NBC scored the best U.S. network opening-round audience in seven years. In Canada, CBC’s coverage recorded the best opening round viewership in history, ahead of the previous best in 2004 when five of the six Canadian teams made the playoffs.

Below are some of the first-round highlights:

NATIONAL TELEVISION MILESTONES

NBC: The network earned the best opening-round viewership in seven years, averaging 1.9 million viewers for its four games, a 12 percent increase over last year. The coverage was highlighted by last Sunday’s Game 6 Philadelphia-Buffalo broadcast, which was the most-watched NHL non-Conference Final game in the U.S. in 12 years. The game averaged 2.57 million viewers, up 44 percent over last year’s comparable telecast (Phoenix-Detroit, 1.78 million).

VERSUS: Coverage of the Conference Quarterfinals, which averaged 624,000 viewers, was the most-watched ever on VERSUS, up eight percent from last year’s first round (595,000) and the most-watched on cable in 17 years. It was also the most-watched Quarterfinals for key male demos in eight years, including the best among Men 18-49 in a decade (2001).

CBC: CBC recorded the highest average viewership in its history for the opening round of the playoffs with 2.148 million viewers for 22 first-round broadcasts, up 49 percent over last year. The total surpassed the previous best set in 2004 when five of six Canadian teams made the playoffs. The record was highlighted by the drama-filled Chicago-Vancouver Game 7 overtime classic, which scored the second-best Conference Quarterfinal viewership in 11 years, 3.827 million viewers.

RDS: Playoffs to date, RDS is averaging 616,000 viewers through 31 telecasts, up 10 percent from last year’s average (558,000 viewers). Average viewership for the Montreal vs. Boston series was 1,791,000 viewers for its seven games, an 18 percent increase over last year’s 7 games series against Washington.

REGIONAL SPORTS NETWORK MILESTONES

· NESN’s coverage of the Boston Bruins’ Game 7 overtime victory over Montreal delivered a 17.7 local rating in Boston, a record for any Bruins playoff game on NESN. Overall, NESN’s first-round ratings were up 69 percent over last year.

· The three highest-rated Blackhawks games in Comcast SportsNet Chicago history occurred during the Blackhawks’ seven-game series against the Canucks. The highpoint was Game 7, which averaged a 13.5 rating locally (474,000 households).

· The deciding Game 7 against the Sabres was the highest-rated Flyers game in Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia history, delivering a 12.6 average rating (380,000 households).

· Fox Sports South’s coverage of the Nashville Predators’ Game 6 clinching victory posted a 3.6 local rating, marking the second-highest rating for a Predators playoff game ever on the network.

· The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Game 7 clincher on Sunshine delivered a 4.5 local rating, the highest rating for a Lighting playoff game on Sunshine in eight years.

· The Capitals first-round series against the Rangers became the highest-rated Capitals playoff series in Comcast SportsNet Washington history, averaging 5.7 in the DC DMA (and a 2.6 Baltimore DMA average) for a combined average local audience of 165,000 households. The series also included the second-highest rated Caps game in Comcast SportsNet history.

· Buffalo led all markets by averaging an 18.8 locally on MSG (6 games) followed by the Pittsburgh Penguins, which averaged a 16.5 on ROOT (7 games).

NHL.COM*

NHL.com also benefited from the on-ice excitement, with April scoring the most unique visitors in any one month in the site’s history, up 32 percent over April 2010 and up 47 percent over 2010-11 monthly average. Wednesday, April 27, earned the third most unique visitors to NHL.com with two Game 7s being played.

For the playoffs, unique visitors have increased by 25 percent year-over-over while video starts are up 57 percent. U.S. traffic has increased by 25 percent, Canada by 24 percent. Finland leads all European nations in terms of traffic and has shown a 36 percent rise over 2010, followed by Germany (+36 percent) and Sweden (+26 percent). Interestingly, traffic from “down under” has shown significant growth with Australia up 36 percent.

In the U.S., some of the NHL markets with significant increases in unique visitors for the first round of the playoffs are: Tampa (+111 percent); Nashville (+81 percent); Atlanta (+38 percent); New York (+37 percent); Buffalo (+36 percent); Chicago (+36 percent); San Francisco/San Jose (+30 percent); Philadelphia (+28 percent); Los Angeles (+31 percent); Washington D.C. (+27 percent); and Detroit (+24 percent).

In Canada, five of the six NHL markets have achieved double-digit traffic growth.

*Source: Omniture

MERCHANDISE

For the first round of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, in-arena merchandise sales volume and per cap sales increased 19% compared to the first round of 2010 (equal # of games played – 49).

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:

“I’ve been covering the playoffs since ’81, and I can’t remember a first-round series that had that kind of emotion.” – Veteran TSN analyst Bob McKenzie

“The NHL’s slogan for the Stanley Cup playoffs is, History Will Be Made, a maxim that has never been more true than during this year’s first round.” – Sports Illustrated

“Year after year, especially over the past decade, the Stanley Cup playoffs teach us one paramount lesson: Expect the unexpected.” – ESPN.com

“There is no way the second round can be as exciting as the first. Is there?” – New York Times

“It doesn’t feel like a stretch to say that was the best first-round playoff game in NHL history.” – Globe & Mail on Chicago-Vancouver Game 7

“The quality of play throughout round 1 has been almost universally high. We’ve been treated to some very exciting hockey so far and that shows no signs of changing.” – Huffington Post

“Every NHL playoff game now is like a fundamentalist revival or something, every row of the upper and lower bowls converted into pews where the worshipers all wear white (Phoenix), orange (Philly), red (Detroit, Washington), white (Pittsburgh) or black (Boston). The games aren’t games anymore in the playoffs, they are full-on Events.” – Denver Post

“The first round of the 2011 NHL playoffs was quite possibly the best in the history of hockey. Comebacks, overtime intrigue, the typical wars of words, goaltending problems. It really had everything.” – SB Nation

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About stevelepore
Steve Lepore is the Managing Editor of Puck the Media. His work has been featured in The Hockey News. Feel free to contact him at stevemlepore@gmail.com

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