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Ratings Suffering

Despite the NHL's strong attendance during the regular season, the league's television ratings for the playoffs are not good, at least according to a couple of articles I stumbled across this morning.

From an article in The Dallas Morning News:

The national Stanley Cup ratings on Versus are down six percent from last season to 0.02, an average of 268,000 homes per game.
During the regular season, NBC averaged 1.34 million homes for its regionalized coverage of the post-lockout NHL. That's less than half the homes that Fox attracted for its NHL coverage a decade ago.

From the NY Daily News (link):

The hearts of local viewers belong to the Yankees and Mets. Not just on Wednesday, but during this first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs - an event that should be a prime piece of TV real estate. Unfortunately, the front lawn is being trampled. In terms of ratings, local baseball is not just beating series featuring the Rangers, Devils and Islanders, it is destroying these playoff matchups.

Small TV numbers are nothing new for the NHL. But when small gets even smaller, that's troubling.


By Tarik El-Bashir  |  April 21, 2007; 7:42 AM ET
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Get off Versus

Posted by: Go Skins Go | April 21, 2007 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Most people just flat out hate hockey. Irrationally. Its become a bit of a joke, hating hockey. Bettman slept on the league for too long. The only two players anyone can name now are gretzky and crosby. I love hockey but I'm reasonable enough to admit that it can't continue the way it is.

That said, nielsen ratings are terrible skewed. If they put the boxes in hockey households the 'ratings' would be great.

Bottom line: enjoy it now, while its here.

Posted by: Kerplunk | April 21, 2007 9:39 AM | Report abuse

That's really too bad, because Versus' coverage of the playoffs has been fantastic - far better than ESPN ever was.

Posted by: katzistan | April 21, 2007 10:00 AM | Report abuse

true .. versus' coverage has been solid this year.

Posted by: Tarik | April 21, 2007 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Versus has had solid coverage, much better than what we would have had on ESPN. But the channel is still not on the radar of the average sports fan.

The NHL needs to find a way back onto ESPN. Maybe they can do a split deal so ESPN and Versus both get games. That way, they can still have Versus provide the wall-to-wall coverage like they currently do, and ESPN can provide the coverage catered to the average sports fan.

I like Versus' coverage, but the league needs to be on ESPN. The exposure that the NHL would get on ESPN would be worth far more than an extra few million in rights fees.

Posted by: Joey | April 21, 2007 10:43 AM | Report abuse

direct result of being on versus, no matter how good their coverage is, its their fault

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2007 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Have you looked lately at NBA ratings? Not much better than the NHL. Perhaps if sportswriters had a brain, most don't, they would understand that sports ratings are pathetic across the board except for the NFL. But you have to forgive sportswriters, who are unqualified to write about any sports related business, they just don't know or care to know about the real business.

Posted by: mike | April 21, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse

maybe if they didn't have EVERY CROSBY GAME

Posted by: Chimaera | April 21, 2007 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Until a major network is ready to make a real commitment to the NHL it's going to continue to fail on TV. Most people are not exposed to the sport, so they think its just big Russians and Canadians with no teeth beating each other with sticks. If a major TV network was to really give the game some exposure, it could really do wonders for the games.

If you didn't spend time on hockey websites, would you even know that NBC puts games on on the weekends? They never mention it during their weekly TV programming, and Versus is channel 126 on my cable system, that means that non-digital subscribers don't get it, and usually "channel surfers" don't go through that many cannels looking for something.

NBC's regular ratings suck too, just make Tuesday Night or any weeknight "Hockey Night in America", see what it does for the sport and the network, if given time to work. I know I can't be the only person in the country who needs to see someone get hit after football season is over.

Posted by: Danny | April 21, 2007 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Hockey is a team sport. How about marketing all of the teams and spotlighting "team personality" and each team's top players instead of ONE PLAYER who was seen repeatedly whining to the refs for the first 3 games of his none-too-short first round series.

Posted by: ovierocks | April 21, 2007 1:46 PM | Report abuse

wow mike, how lucky we are to have someone as knowledgeable and eloquent as you to keep us straight. how dare tarik not provide us with 300 words on the relative strenght of NHL broadcasts with statistics and regression analysis on all sports broadcasts in north america. oh yeah, thats right, its just an NHL blog and not the wall street journal.

ask youself mike, if sportswriters are so stupid, how did you come to post here? surely anything a lowly sportswriter like tarik has to say is not worth your time or attention.

Posted by: Cap Fan 1 | April 21, 2007 1:46 PM | Report abuse

The NHL obviously needs to increase the size of the nets.

I'm guessing signing with Versus through 2011 wasn't such a hot idea then. On to the Food Network in 2012.

Posted by: Solution!! | April 21, 2007 6:08 PM | Report abuse

For the record, my cable isn't digital, I get Versus on Channel 64. I wonder if it has something to do with where you live.

But yeah, I wish they would market the game as a whole rather than just Crosby.

Posted by: Murshawursha | April 21, 2007 8:32 PM | Report abuse

Does this happen to include all of those sports bars in which I hang out and watch games? I doubt it.

Posted by: DrinkingPartner | April 21, 2007 11:51 PM | Report abuse


The regular season in the NBA, NHL or even MLB doesn't mean a whole lot. Let's see how they do side by side now that the NBA playoffs have started. We'll see if they drop.

When the NHL playoffs can't beat regular season baseball in NY, something is wrong.

Posted by: Randy_Reno | April 22, 2007 12:14 AM | Report abuse

Hockey is much better on 1080i HDTV; the puck is much more visible and the game looks great. So as more of the sports watching public adopts HDTVs, there is a chance hockey on television may look as good as it does at the arena.

Additionally, the way hockey games are produced for television needs to be more creative to find a way to showcase the unique qualities sport: the combination of speed, finesse, and violence.

For the most part, Versus and NBC cover the games with two stationary cameras high above the ice that pivot to the right and then left, following play. "Goalie cams" and counting time for each shift of an important player seems to be the only innovation brought to broadcast hockey in the last 5 years.

Posted by: Harry | April 22, 2007 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Face it. Hockey is a niche sport. It has a very loyal following, but that following is small in the USA and it doesn't really have any hopes of increasing substantially. I mean, look at the marketing strategy. The NHL decides not to market the sport but to hitch its wagon to one guy, Sidney Crosby, who is an assist guy with the personality of an after dinner mint. He's the future face of Hockey? Give me a break. And look at the local market. The Caps are somewhat a microcosm of the NHL overall in the USA. A very loyal core fan base, but one that is way too small. And many local media personalities feel that the sport is fair game to either ignore or ridicule at every turn. Not a pretty picture.

Posted by: Joe | April 22, 2007 11:08 AM | Report abuse

As far as Vs coverage, the stuff they are picking up from TSN shows that the quality of broadcast here is far better than in Canada (production wise) but they need to lose some of the in studio TSN coverage becasue those guys are dorks in any country. Stay consistent!

Posted by: Kerplunk | April 22, 2007 1:55 PM | Report abuse

joe, an after dinner mint! classic. i believe hockey can expand on the sports horizon, but you are correct, it does need to change its marketing strategy. it needs to be marketed as more than a game which condones fighting and everyonce in a while has a nasty stick swinging incident which makes headlines. core fans know that's just a small part of the game, but in order to attrack new fans the perception (and some of the reality) needs to change.

getting on a mainstream network like espn would help. but they also need to make sure that the league is portrayed as it should be. a fast, exciting, hard hitting game. there are those who don't like the new rules, and would just assume see more fighting in the game. that may jazz up the core fans, but if you want to really shrink the audience, go back to clutch and grab hockey.

Posted by: Cap Fan 1 | April 22, 2007 5:16 PM | Report abuse

WoW - according to Leonsis, the attendence at games is up (despite appearing half empty every game) and VS was such a great move for the league! This totally goes against the grain of the SPIN MASTER... how can that be??

Posted by: Badboy25 | April 22, 2007 11:43 PM | Report abuse

I don't get the Versus channel with our cable package in Frederick. I know very few people who get the Versus Channel. So if i see game 6 of the lightning/devils series and no games before that, there's no point to even watch. The NHL makes it very hard to care.

Posted by: Ian | April 23, 2007 2:10 AM | Report abuse

If your cable provider is Comcast, you likely have Versus. Comcast owns Versus.

Even when ESPN had the NHL, they treated it as an afterthought. Aside from nhl2nite, they never did any hockey stories, never had post/pre game shows, etc. Right now, the Arena League is getting better coverage than the NHL ever got on ESPN. I can see why NHL would rather go with a smaller network willing to make them the priority.

Posted by: tallbear | April 23, 2007 8:47 AM | Report abuse

The NHL isn't going anywhere as long as attendance can continue to be high in most areas. I actually think Crosby should be the player the NHL showcases since he's probably the most known name playing today. Being on Vs. really hurts the NHL. Bettman is banking that Vs. is going to continue to grow and the NHL will grow with them. We'll see if his gamble pays off.

They really need to get some new commercials though. How many times have we seen the Progressive commercial that starts with, " Lets Go Girls!" Kill Me.

Posted by: Dark Side of the Bashir | April 23, 2007 9:01 AM | Report abuse

The NHL and the sport of hockey is a regional sport. Not going to change...its just the culture we're in.

The NHL needs to cut some teams and thereby improving the overall product on the ice. There are too many guys in the NHL that shouldn't have jobs....but because there are so many teams they have work.

The game will be better and the ratings will only be important in hockey markets.

Posted by: caphcky | April 23, 2007 9:32 AM | Report abuse

I live in Frederick, and have Versus as channel 771 part of the HD package on Comcast. Glad I do. I think they've done an excellent job doing the NHL this year.

Posted by: kenhockey | April 23, 2007 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Not sure if any of you have played any NHL video games, but the intro in pretty much any video game should be used as the marketing technique by NBC (NBC has the best chance of increasing viewership). Have like 3 different commercials...1 showing the best hits of the season, 1 showing the best goals of the season, and 1 showing the best saves of the season. Just take a look at what ESPN is doing to market the Arena league -- the "If these walls could talk" thing which is just showing big hits and plays.

I understand why the NHL is trying to market the league around a single player (look at the NBA -- they do it all the time with Lebron, Wade, and Kobe, etc), but it won't work. If you aren't already a hockey fan, the fact there is a great player in a sport you don't care about won't be a reason to start watching. It's not like in the NBA where you can put on a game and see one of the 'superstars' score every 30 seconds. Hockey is simply a team sport...the best aspects of the game need to be the selling points.

Ultimately, nothing is going to change... The only way to actually increase the fan base in hockey is to get people to GO to games where they can fall in love with the sport. There aren't many casual hockey fans because once you go to a game, you either love it or hate it...and if you love it, there's a fan for life.

Posted by: Jeff | April 23, 2007 10:43 AM | Report abuse

i think the answer is obvious:

it's really the only thing that can save the game now. that and the death of gary bettman.

Posted by: jamebow | April 23, 2007 10:43 AM | Report abuse

I have a friend who is very into sports -- a big football, baseball, even soccer fan. A regular watcher of sport shows, reader of sports magazines,etc. At lunch yesterday I mentioned something about Sidney Crosby and he blinked a few times before saying. " Who? The name sounds familiar, I just cant place it."

That about sums up for me what a good job that Bettman and Co. have been doing marketing the "new" NHL.

Get us off of Versus! We need to be back on ESPN and channels were we can recapture the interest of people who like sports/fell off of hockey after the lockout. Versus is NOT going to do that for us, neither is just the occasional game on NBC.

The biggest thing I hear from my friends about hockey is that they would like to see more on TV before they buy game tickets. The problem is, there is no where to watch hockey casually. We dont have the same opportunities as baseball or basketball, where you can just "catch" a game on TV.

I remember Bettman (on WaPo live) was saying that Versus gives the NHL opportunities that ESPN didnt. Which opportunities Gary? The only people who are going to PAY get Versus are hardcore fans already....we need to get the peripheral fans back. They are the ones who might not
watch every single regular season game but they will watch playoff hockey and maybe get a 10 game ticket pack. And then hopefully they will bring their buddies to the game, and so on. Its an important part of rebuilding.

I am not saying that hockey is dying right this minute, but it is definitely on the decline.

Posted by: LB | April 23, 2007 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Here's a question about Vs's ratings:

When the game is simulcast on VSHD (or CCHD) does it count for Vs? Or when a game is simulcast on INHD does that count?

When a game is on one of these channels I don't watch the low def version. Could that drop be attributable to this?

Posted by: Kim | April 23, 2007 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Get the major carriers to all broadcast in HD. It's absurd how far behind the NHL is really. Can you even fathom an imporatant NFL game NOT in HD? I sure can't.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2007 12:42 PM | Report abuse

I see non-HD NFL games on CBS all the time. Ravens games early on this past season were not carried in HD.

Posted by: Kim | April 23, 2007 1:17 PM | Report abuse

I'm not a big Crosby fan either, but people need to remember last year's ad campaign. The NHL got blasted for using actors instead of players. Their reasoning? They wanted to market the game instead of individual players. This year they focused on individual stars (true, probably a bit too much Crosby). See commercials with Joe Thornton and his toast and Ovechkin with Leonsis (not to mention the hotel hijinks at the All Star Game).

I think the beef falls to the commentators that are trying too hard instead of the NHL entity as a whole (marketing department or otherwise). There needs to be a ban on saying "Crosby" during a game unless he's actually playing in it.

Posted by: FN | April 23, 2007 1:22 PM | Report abuse

There's one thing about the NHL ad campaigns that misses the sports audience. They don't get on the ESPN info-mercial, AKA SportsCenter. That's part of the downfall of the NHL, the infomercial turned it's attention to the bigger $$ of the NCAA, NBA, and NFL. There was no longer any room for the NHL.

Now, they need to start from scratch. Or buy lot's of shares of Disney.

Posted by: Kim | April 23, 2007 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Could not agree more with Kim re: SportCenter.

Posted by: LB | April 23, 2007 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Kim, unless you actually are a Neilsen family, you're not counted in the ratings at all.

RE: NFL in HD. I read that CBS only has three or four HD broadcast trucks. They couldn't broadcast every game in HD even if they wanted to. Sure the game might be on the HD channel but it might not be a HD source.

Posted by: tallbear | April 23, 2007 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I can't get people to go with me to a Caps game once they find out how much the tickets are. Someone doesn't want to drop $70 to go to something they're not sure if they're going to like or not then have to sit in nose-bleeds and get hammered at the concession stand. People know and understand baseball, they know it's going to be boring, but the NHL has plenty to offer even when one team is getting killed by another. People need to see the fan friendliness of the game and how much fun it can be without breaking the bank.

Stop catering to Sidney Crosby is our savior. He's the worst possible candidate. "Son, here is Sidney Crosby, yep, he's the one yelling at the referee after he fell down for no reason." "Gee dad, can I do that?" We don't need another sport of crybabies, soccer and basketball do a good job of that.

The game of the week, during the week would be a good diversion and possibly spur networks into showing major pro sports again in place of really bad reality and game shows.

Do more to promote the sport in the grass roots area. The Caps have rink partners all over the place, however those rinks don't do much to get the word out that they are there. Only Kettler does a good job with their Kiosk in the food court of Ballston Common Mall, but more needs to be done. I had driven by the rink in Prince William every day for four years before someone told me it was a skating rink. Good luck finding Reston without a map. Ashburn is easy enough to find, if you live in that area of Loudoun County. Mt. Vernon and Piney Orchard are nearly as bad. Laurel is off a two-lane road that hasn't been paved since 1975 and Rockville and Cabin John are set back from the road.

If kids are interested in playing, they need a place they can stumble on, like Kettler. That place is going to be a gold mine with all the people that stumble through that mall.

Posted by: Cheaper Tickets | April 23, 2007 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Get the major carriers to all broadcast in HD. It's absurd how far behind the NHL is really. Can you even fathom an imporatant NFL game NOT in HD? I sure can't.

The NHL was ahead of the HD curve. When Mark Cuban launched HDNet, his initial focus was broadcasting NHL games; he even brought Jack Edwards back from the dead to call games. It's the individual networks that need to spend the money to have HD equipment, not the NHL.

We need to stop thinking back to the "good old days" of the NHL on ESPN, because those days are not only long gone, but were also pretty lean in the beginning. Versus has some interesting programming choices across their schedule, but they did hire a lot of the right talking heads, starting with Clement and down the line through Emrick.

Give Versus a chance to do to get on more systems and improve their product. This is year two of their agreement. I was all over them last year for grainy video, bad sound, and jerky camera work, but their coverage has improved dramatically. The fact that they are also simulcasting Canadian feeds, instead of leaving sets dark (or sending their own bozos to do the game) is a good way to learn how to run a live feed and cover live hockey. NBC, on the other hand, seems to think Pierre McGuire is a good idea. (He is not.)

The problem starts and ends with Gary Bettman, who seems to think that hits to are equal to if not more important than television viewers. I watch the Devils play on a small grainy web feed only as a last resort.

Posted by: P-Mac | April 23, 2007 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Sorry I pushed hockey back 25 years with my stick infraction. My neighbor's son did it to his friend earlier today and proudly proclaimed he "wanted to be just like Jamie McClennan". His mom then gave him a slap on the wrist when he said, "but mom, it's the playoffs."

Posted by: Jamie McClennan | April 23, 2007 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Gee, thanks tallbear. But I know that I don't count in the ratings. Otherwise, soccer, NHL, and Discovery Channel HD would be looking at monumental ratings.

My point was that the national NHL broadcasts are split up to Vs, INHD, or VsHD/CCHD. If somebody wants to slant a ratings article against the NHL, they'd just look at part of that. But anyone with HD is going to be watching one of the other options.

Posted by: Kim | April 23, 2007 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I would assume ratings numbers are for Versus only. The average reporter probably doesn't bother to look at anything other than the raw numbers. If Bettman was smart, he would use the combined numbers in the NHL's press releases, but he's a moron so who knows what he's using.

Posted by: tallbear | April 23, 2007 3:53 PM | Report abuse

The NHL likes being on Versus because it pays well. They get a guaranteed rights fee from Versus. After the lockout, ESPN told the NHL that they wanted a fee deal like the one NBC got from the NHL. The NBC deal essentially calls for production costs to be covered up front, and then the NHL gets revenue after that (but NO guaranteed money). The NHL wanted no part of a similar deal with ESPN, while they could get guaranteed money for the american franchises out of Comcast. ESPN draws better ratings for Poker, and it costs less to produce. Get over it, the NHL is not going back to ESPN. Hockey has found it's home on Versus (otherwise known as "The Bull Riding Channel").

Posted by: NHL Observer | April 24, 2007 1:35 AM | Report abuse

Versus has been great for the NHL, but theres always room to improve. Hockey needs to be the primary focus of the network, not bullriding. They need more hockey programming, and they need to show at least one game every night. If they really want to impress people, they can showmore of the draft, more of the WJCs (so we can actually see who they go gaga over at the draft), and maybe the occasional CHL game. You have the announcers going crazy over propsects... but then nobody knows who they are.

Also they need to get into more homes it seems, if people are complaining that they don't get the channel. People forget that ESPN at one time showed crap like dodgeball on tape delay until they could build up their network. They still do show crap in the middle of the day, but they can afford to do it now...

Posted by: Graham | April 24, 2007 9:08 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone remember when hockey was shown on the USA Network? Creating a channel that's based solely on hockey is a good idea, but not a big sell. Versus should incorportate more of the "minor" sports like ESPN used to. Show me some AHL playoff games, have an ECHL and AHL game of the week. During the off season, show a "classic" game from the previous season either NHL, AHL, ECHL, or one of the other indy leagues. Show some minor league baseball, show some of the women's softball league, minor league arena football and all that. Show sports in which there is a vs. to match the channel's name. Mix up the programming, that's what ESPN did. Can anyone tell me the last time ESPN showed a midget car race from Indianapolis Raceway Park? How about karting? Box lacrosse?

Posted by: Versus vs. ESPN vs. USA | April 24, 2007 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Versus did show the ECHL All Star game last year lol.

But I agree, more hockey programming. Wasn't the NHL Network supposed to be included in Versus programming?

Posted by: Graham | April 24, 2007 12:00 PM | Report abuse

The NHL has been somewhat shortsided in looking at their exposure on American TV.
In a league that takes in 2.1 Billion dollars in revenue the extra 30 million or so it gets from Versus versus ESPN is about .14 of leagues revenue and does affect its image and standing a major league sport. I do believe it is a major league sport and does take an unfair beating sometimes. The NBA regular season is only about a .9 rating higher than the NHL at a 2.0 and just a few years ago the NHL had a 2.1 rating on Fox actually higher than the NBA on ABC today. That is never reported. All major aports except the NFL have seen a drop in ratings over the last decade. Versus does put alot into Hockey and maybe it will pay off in the long term. Lets hope so.

Posted by: Joe M | April 25, 2007 5:06 PM | Report abuse

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