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

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

  1. Chris S says:

    Could be worse for NBC, Steve. Imagine if we have a Winnipeg-Calgary Final next year. I guess NBC could market it as the Atlanta final though.

  2. KevinS says:

    Well, it is all a wait and see approach to ratings. If things sink fast and far then we might be looking at Vancouver being the issue or it might be that NBC/Vs failed to promote these team in the season so casual fans and non-fans won’t see Crosby, Ovi, Detroit or Philadelphia and will just tun their sets off. If, on the other hand, the ratings do well then we can look at the strong match-up between two very good teams or we can look at Vancouver/Boston as a different match-up that casual fans might be curious to look in on. I’d almost want dismal ratings in the Final so that NBC/Vs would have to just look at it as a failure to promote the entire league and the other stars, but they will say internally that it was because there weren’t any bankable teams or stars that casual fans or non-fans want to see.

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