New York and Los Angeles Are Not the Key to Record NHL Ratings, Even if Everyone Keeps Telling You It Is
May 15, 2012 12 Comments
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.