New York and Los Angeles Are Not the Key to Record NHL Ratings, Even if Everyone Keeps Telling You It Is

I’ve read a lot of stories in the past few days about how a Stanley Cup Final between the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings would be the best thing to ever happen to the NHL. It would set record ratings, no doubt, with the top two television markets involved. Damien Cox said so, The Globe and Mail thought a New York-Los Angeles final would cap a massive run of great fortune for Gary Bettman, Bruce Dowbiggin feels it could set new benchmarks in American ratings as well, and venerable ratings rabblerouser Variety thinks ratings could soar.

I’m not so easily convinced. I’ve been right a couple of times in these playoffs when it comes to ratings, so I think I deserve a shot at telling you why all of these sources are probably wrong, at least short term. Would a Game 7 between the Rangers and Kings likely shoot at that record we saw for Boston and Vancouver last June? Almost definitely. But the NHL would likely face a slow build getting there, as New York and Los Angeles are fractured when it comes to hockey interest.

Game 7 of the Rangers-Capitals conference semifinal drew a 4.8 in the New York market. Not a bad number, a record for NBC. But it was still getting trounced by literally every game of the five-game laughingstock that was the New York Knicks against the Miami Heat. Game 6 of the series got beaten, not only by the Knicks, but by a regular season Yankees game against Tampa Bay. It’s also a bit of potentially upsetting news for NBC Sports Network, as the much more well-known MSG drew a 5.7 rating for the Rangers first-round Game 7 against the Senators.

Could the team see numbers inflate to “Knicks Round 1” levels by the time the Final hits? We won’t honestly know. Their Eastern Conference Final is against the New Jersey Devils, a team that shares the New York market, and drew between a 2.0-2.5 rating for their second round series against Philadelphia. A 6.5-7.0 rating would be considered good (we’ll probably have a solid number shortly after this publishes), but not an accurate representation of the fanbase. The next time we’ll be able to see that would be Game 1 of a Stanley Cup Final.

While New York is doing pretty well, the team still has to share headlines on New York talk radio with middling Mets and Yankees teams, Tebowmania, and people already curious about the Knicks off-season. you’d almost think that getting stopped here, and making the run for the Stanley Cup next year, would be better because the base is likely to be more hungry for the championship a year after almost getting there, as with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009 and 2010.

Los Angeles is proving even more problematic. There are simply fewer diehard hockey fans in LA, and even more storylines hurting the Kings potential for ratings glory. Both the Lakers and Clippers are still in the post-season, and basketball has always been LA’s first love. The Dodgers are riding the Magic Johnson-purchase-led resurgence, the Angels are a bloody fascinating mess with Albert Pujols on their squad.

It shows in the numbers. A 2.1 for Game 1 of the Western Conference Final simply isn’t going to cut it for the #2 television market. Even more upsetting is that’s a record for NBC Sports Network. Which is double upsetting, because VERSUS once televised two games of an Anaheim Ducks Stanley Cup Final. Los Angeles seems like another market where winning next year after a great run this year would be better.

But you can’t always get what you want, as it’s an unpredictable sport. Both these teams won Game 1 of their series. There’s a good shot we’ll see one or both in the Stanley Cup Final. Yes, having Broadway and Hollywood involved in the Stanley Cup Final would be fantastic, a dream for a league that still needs to win fans back in both markets from the lockout. But those two markets are just not at the right level to bring in record ratings at this point. It had better be a great series, or else it might be diehards only until at least Game 5. I think some, probably all, of the people thinking that aren’t necessary looking that deep into this, and just seeing the bright lights of the big cities.


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12 Responses to New York and Los Angeles Are Not the Key to Record NHL Ratings, Even if Everyone Keeps Telling You It Is

  1. Ryan says:

    I definitely see your point, Steve, but I have to disagree with it (my own opinion being at least as uneducated as yours, probably much more so). Obviously there aren’t as many diehards in either city as there are in Philly or Boston or Detroit, but there are a massive number of people, unmatched in any other two cities, who will tune in to whatever the “in thing” is.

    Are the sudden runs of the Rangers and Kings this year, without any warning, enough to make them that in thing? It’s hard to say. Basketball teams getting eliminated would help. They were certainly the in thing 20 years ago in both markets, but they also had Gretzky and Messier (respectively) at the time. Does 20 years of waiting make the casual fans ready to support a winner, or do the teams have to be better for a few years consistently before the city rallies behind them? It could go either way, but I’m tentatively putting my eggs in the “it’ll work out well” basket.

  2. kevin says:

    NYC is all foreigners….LA is all Spanish……you won’t get great ratings. Plus NYC has Yankees, Mets and LA has Lakers, Clippers, Angels and Dodgers to compete against….Ratings will be decent but not anything outstanding

  3. kevin says:

    Although ESPN had their best ratings for NYR/Van in 1994 and after the series ended SI wrote an article about how hockey would be the next big thing… good thing is ESPN is forced to talk hockey because NY and LA are involved and even the most uninformed in those places know about it……….at the end of the day it will be a heck of alot better than Ott/Ana or Car/Edm

  4. bubblescreen says:

    Couldn’t disagree more. 4.8 in NYC is like a 20 in Phoenix.

    And the Rangers in the Cup final would trump anything in NYC. Just like it did in 1994. The NY market is just as fractured as the Boston market and look what the Bruins did last year. The backpage of the NY Post will be all Rangers for those 2 weeks, unless Tim Tebow has a dinner date with Derek Jeter.

    Not so sure about the Kings side of it, other than the obvious that LA > Phoenix.

  5. Jack says:

    Regardless of ratings, I think it will be great for the league long term. You need the Rangers and Kings to be relevant in their own cities. At the very least a run to the finals will re-energize and grow these two fan bases. Look at what we’ve seen in Chicago, Boston, and D.C. over the past five years as examples.

    • eddie says:

      It can’t I agree. I think the lakers/clippers will get bounced this round. Lining the kings up for the finals and centre stage and l.a is a trendy town they’ll hop on board. This nyr/la finals will cross over to main stream: nyc/la talk shows.

  6. kingrussell says:

    The key for decent ratings in LA is both NBA teams getting knocked off in the second round leaving just the Dodgers and Angels as competition.

  7. Pablo says:

    Two points: 1) “ratings” in NY will never match Philly or Boston etc. but “viewership” will be close.

    2) [quote]A 6.5-7.0 rating would be considered good (we’ll probably have a solid number shortly after this publishes), but not an accurate representation of the fanbase. The next time we’ll be able to see that would be Game 1 of a Stanley Cup Final.[/quote]

    I don’t understand this comment. Why would Game 1 be the high point for the NY-NJ series?

    • morganwick says:

      “That” = “an accurate representation of the fanbase”. It could probably stand to be rephrased.

  8. Kevin says:

    I posted this in the other post (Didn’t realize this was here).. I know A LOT of fans that don’t have NBCSN. It’s the biggest issue with the NBC deal. Everybody has MSG and everybody knows where it is located. But I know a lot of fans here in NY that either don’t have NBCSN, don’t have it in HD, or don’t know where it is. While the games are on NBCSN, you will not bring in the casual viewer.

    Now, when it switches over to NBC for the finals (Assuming the Rangers make it) the numbers will sky rocket in NY. They need to get NBCSN in more households. It’s currently under 80 million which isn’t enough. This isn’t only a problem in NY, it’s a problem everywhere. It needs to get to the 90-100 Million range. Not only is there an issue in attracting the casual fan, but a lot of diehard fans, that love their teams and the sport can’t watch because they don’t have NBCSN. Yes they can go to a bar or a friends house, but there are times where you don’t want to do that, or it’s not an option.

    The most-watched game in NY is still Game 7 of the 1st round. Which was aired on MSG in NY and not NBCSN. A 5.7 and 8.5 peak. I can imagine if Game 7 of the 2nd round was on MSg that it would have had at least a 7 rating, probably even higher. Every game on NBCSN has had less viewers in NY. Do not count Game 1 because that also includes fans in Jersey watching the Devils.

    Obviously nothing can be done this year, but they need to get NBCSN in more households sometime in the future.

  9. morganwick says:

    The people going “OMG it’s the two biggest media markets!!!11!!!!!!!111!eleven!” without looking at LA’s actual hockey interest are probably the same people who hate the southern expansion.

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