Your Announcers and Open Thread For Night 41 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Boston vs. Vancouver, Game 1, 8:00 p.m. ET

National TV (Canada): CBC
Play by Play: Jim Hughson
Color: Craig Simpson
Inside the Glass: Glenn Healy
Reporters: Scott Oake and Elliotte Friedman

National TV (US): NBC
Play by Play: Mike Emrick
Color: Eddie Olczyk
Inside the Glass: Pierre McGuire

Michael Eisner Tries to Improve the NHL, An Excerpt From “Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN”

The following is an excerpt from “Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN,” the ridiculously addictive and well-composed history of ESPN by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales. Please not, for those unfamiliar with the tome’s style: all material in italics comes from the authors, everything else from the various interview subjects. The following passage is relevant to the network’s coverage of the NHL. All materials republished with permission of Little, Brown and Company:

For twenty-one years, ESPN and the NHL had played nicely together. That is, they happily entered into one agreement after another. In time, though, relations grew less chummy, in part because the Walt Disney Company, both as a right holder and owner of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team, was extremely frustrated that the league wasn’t doing enough to bolster lackluster TV ratings.

Hoping to get those numbers up, Michael Eisner had gone so far as to meet with NHL ownership and present them with ten ideas on how to have more viewers. (Among them: have players on the benches remove their helmets, so fans on TV could more clearly see their faces, thus making it easier for stars to be developed.) The owners refused to implement any of Eisner’s ideas, however, and that, coupled with the sizable losses ABC had incurred with its NHL deal, caused the Disney chief to throw up his hands in exasperation.

We always tried ways, so many different conversations, meetings; we wanted to improve the sport and it was really difficult. We wanted to do so many things that the NHL just said nope, nope, nope, nope, nope to. Access, interviews, cameras here, there. I prayed for linkage during the lockout. In other words, I wanted salaries to be linked to revenue. Because I knew if they were, then the players and the teams would have incentive to help us grow the sport. We felt like a network at ESPN trying to grow a sport without cooperation from the different constituents within the sport.

ESPN wasn’t entirely without blame for the NHL’s tensions. The network had totally screwed the NHL by booting its games off the mother ship and relegating them to ESPN2. In essence, the network had thrown the NHL under the proverbial bus to make room for the ESPN Original Entertainment lineup, which was so important to Shapiro and the network, and once the NHL was installed on ESPN2, ratings indicated that only friends and relatives were watching.

To make matters still worse for the NHL, ESPN was attempting to close a new and very costly deal with Major League Baseball, and Eisner, Iger, and Bodenheimer had agreed that they would not splurge on both hockey and baseball. Shapiro was directed to meet with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and tell him the ugly truth: ESPN only had $30 million for the deal. Bettman was incredulous. Couldn’t ESPN take some money away from its deals with other leagues? Wasn’t there any way to come up with more cash? Shapiro’s response was a brutally honest “take it or leave it”: if Bettman said no to the $30 million, there would be no deal at all; this was not a negotiation. Bettman felt insulted by the puny offer and, in a huff, bade all the ESPN networks good-bye. He and hockey wound up limping over to the Outdoor Life Network, the sports network owned by cable giant Comcast. 

Stunner: Hockey Popular in Canada

CBC’S HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA continues its record setting 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs with an average Round Three audience of 3.007 million — making it CBC’s highest-rated Conference Finals ever* — with viewership up 24% over last year’s series.

Game Five of the Vancouver-San Jose series was the highest rated game of Round Three with an average audience of 4.003 million**, making it the second highest rated Round Three game since 1993’s Game Seven between Toronto and Los Angeles which drew 4.269 million viewers.

* Based on metered television audience data only.

** Source: 2011 television audiences are BBM overnight, A2+ (PPM measurement).


Stanley Cup Final Ratings Predictions: Will They Go Down? And If So, How Far?

The prevailing logic from those who lay claim to knowledge about the NHL and television (and many more who are ignorant of these things) is that Stanley Cup Final ratings will see a significant drop for the first time since 2007, when a poor series between Anaheim and Ottawa set then-record lows for ratings on broadcast television. They dictate that because there is a Canadian team in this Stanley Cup Final, that Americans will not watch. That losing out on a local market will kill the ratings more than anything.

Those people are probably right, but not as right as I think they feel. There’ll be a drop, but if people find out this series is good, I think there’ll be more than enough audience for NBC’s (and especially VERSUS’) pleasure. If it goes six or seven games, people will tune in. The 2.5 million who found VERSUS for Game 7 of the Eastern Final proves that. The question is … who will tune in from the start?

It is clear that the Boston bandwagon has bought in. A Bruins win on the road in the first two games would get it even further on board. A Boston Stanley Cup win could do a 30-35 rating in the market, based on what we’ve seen for previous rounds. Will others? Perhaps not. But having an original six hockey market, starved for a championship, in this series is huge. Getting away from the NBA Finals for the entire series helps as well. Let’s hope that experiment has ended.

In the end, it depends on good hockey. People heard that the Vancouver-Chicago series was good hockey. It had storylines every which way. A million people watched the final two games of the series, and none of them were from Chicago. If these teams put on a show – and the skill level of both tells any idiot that they could – then the doomsayers will be proven wrong. That said, I think a 10% drop in viewership for this series is a reasonable assumption after the Chicago-Philly and Detroit-Pittsburghs of the last few years. Let’s break it down.

Game 1 – Wednesday, June 4th, 8 p.m. ET, NBC
Last Year:
4.34 million viewers on 5/29/10
2009: 4.51 million viewers on 5/30/09
Analysis: The Stanley Cup Final begins on a weeknight for the first time since 2008. There isn’t much that airs on Wednesday nights on network television during the summer season. So You Think You Can Dance is the only original show that airs on this night, and it largely courts women. Due to the comparable game last year airing Saturday night, there’s every chance that NBC could post gains year-to-year. That said, I’m playing it conservatively.
Prediction: 4.2 million viewers

Game 2 – Saturday, June 7th, 8 p.m. ET, NBC
Last Year:
5.91 million viewers on 5/31/10
2009: 5.33 million viewers on 5/31/09
Analysis: Here’s where you hit a problem. Saturday night has a legendary reputation for being the graveyard of network television ratings. This will likely be the biggest drop of any game in the series, just because of the night. There’s every chance that ratings could go down from Game 1 of this series, too.
Prediction: 4.0 million viewers

Game 3 – Monday, June 6th, 8 p.m. ET, VERSUS
3.6 million viewers on 6/2/10 (all-time record for VERSUS’ NHL broadcasts)
2009: 2.955 million viewers on 6/2/09
Analysis: For the third consecutive year, VERSUS gets games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, and it has proven very successful for them. Game 3 of last year’s series proved to be their highest-rated property of all time. How many will find VERSUS with a Canadian team involved? Surely they won’t top the 2.9 million for Penguins/Red Wings, will they? It’s a definite possibility, but I’m still playing it conservative.
Prediction: 2.8 million viewrs

Game 4 – Wednesday, June 8th, 8 p.m. ET, VERSUS
3.126 million viewers on 6/4/10
2009: 3.448 million viewers on 6/4/09
Analysis: Game 4 of the Final has hit 3 million for VERSUS both years that they’ve aired it. If we have a series going, there’s every chance that they could come close, and if it’s a sweep, then VERSUS will likely air it’s first major sports championship to much lower numbers. We’ll play with something in between.
Prediction: 2.9 million viewers

Game 5 – Friday, June 10th, 8 p.m. ET, NBC
5.95 million viewers on 6/6/10
2009: 4.28 million viewers on 6/6/10
Analysis: Friday can typically be seen as rough as much as Saturday. People are out doing things. From here on out, a lot of what will factor into ratings will simply have to depend on what the series looks like. If we’re under the assumption that it’s a seven game series, here’s where you’ll start to see things turn a little bit.
Prediction: 5.0 million viewers

Game 6 – Monday, June 13th, 8 p.m. ET, NBC
7.57 million viewers on 6/9/10
2009: 5.45 million viewers on 6/9/09
Analysis: Most people aren’t expecting the NBA Finals to last very long, especially after last night’s dreary, dreadful Game 1. This could be the point in the spring where the NHL is all alone and has all the attention to themselves. I think you’ll see surprisingly good numbers for the league here, though not to the heights that they reached for last season.
Prediction: 6.1 million viewers

Game 7 – Wednesday, June 15th, 8 p.m. ET, NBC
2009: 7.51 million viewers on 6/12/09
Analysis: I am proud to say that the NHL is in a place where they can get a good chunk of casual fans to tune into a Game 7, even with a low-rating team. This was not the case in 2006, or even in 2004. However, the great numbers for Boston-Tampa Bay could be seen as an indicator that folks will tune in if there’s a do-or-die Game 7. That it is on a Wednesday night, and not a weekend, is an even bigger help. Will it reach the 7.5 million of 2009? Probably not, but I think the NHL is headed to really surprise some people over the next two weeks.
Prediction: 7.0 million viewers