Wizards ratings: Still similar to Caps
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Sports Business Journal published its annual mid-season look at NBA ratings on regional sports networks last week. (Subscription required.) The analysis (based on Nielsen data) covers games through Jan. 31, when the Wizards were 16-30 and already had the fourth-worst record in the NBA.
The results were something of a mixed bag for the Wizards. On the one hand, the team's ratings on Comcast SportsNet and CSN+ were up 53 percent over the year before; the Wiz were averaging a 1.44, according to SBJ. On the other hand, that's actually pretty poor in the world of the NBA; the 1.44 put Washington's ratings 20th of the 27 U.S. NBA franchises for which data were available.
Here's the part where I make unfair and possibly misleading comparisons based on a faulty and partial understanding of scheduling, network TV deals, game dates and so on. Even after their 14-game winning streak, which led to repeated record-breaking CSN broadcasts, the Caps were still averaging only a 1.50 on CSN and CSN+ as of last week. That's a remarkable number, when you consider the history of hockey ratings in D.C. Still, the fact that it would be so similar to the Wizards' number during this disastrous season is, to me, surprising.
(Yes, I wrote virtually the same thing last year at this time, but the Caps are better than they were then, and the Wizards are even more depressing, though they admittedly weren't in November.)
Of course, there's another way to look at this all, as On Frozen Blog argued last week: that these numbers are even in the same ballpark should be considered a massive achievement for the Caps:
The Washington Post's Dan Steinberg I think has it wrong to deflect away the popularity strides the Caps have made on TV this season by juxtaposing them with viewer numbers for the Wizards. Comparatively speaking, basketball is a ridiculously easy sport to produce for a television outlet -- 90 rectangular feet of playing surface versus 200 feet of encased ice, with play on ice moving at 30-plus miles an hour, for instance -- but even more basically, D.C. has been a hotbed of a breeding ground for hoops for generations. Every school in the region can affordably organize a basketball team; that's partly why its participation numbers also have been so strong for so long. Attachments to a sport formed from participation are vital.
How many basketball courts does the region have? How many ice rinks? What are the youth participation rates across the region for the two sports? (More interestingly, what are the trending numbers there?) That the two sports are now on levelized TV terms is nothing short of staggering.
And maybe that's all true. But it's the reason why a few readers have loudly argued for months now that, despite the current run of great success and attention, hockey is a long way from capturing the D.C. market. On the other hand, the Caps averaged a 2.8 over the final 10 locally produced games of their streak; if that continues through the rest of the season and the Wizards' ratings fall off, the final tally could be markedly different.
And here's one final batch of numbers to make your day. Sports Business Journal also just published composite prime-time ratings and household viewership for the nation's regional sports networks throughout 2009. (You don't need a subscription for that link.) It strikes me as a grim picture; CSN in D.C. averages 11,000 households, fewer than regional networks in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Miami, Tampa, Denver and Seattle, among others. MASN in D.C. averages 7,000 households, or fewer households than the Blue Jackets's network in Columbus attracts.
Of course, this stuff requires a lot more context to mean much of anything. Many of the RSNs have broadcast deals with multiple teams, giving them more live game programming, which is what drives ratings on these channels. Most of the biggest RSNs have deals with baseball teams, which provide an incessant stream of programming. The local teams have mostly been mediocre-to-awful over the last decade--no local team has competed for a title in that span--and MASN is a new network, featuring a new team, owned by a villainous out-of-town character.
Also, you'd need to know what sorts of programming each network is offering during its featured team's offseason, and during off-nights, when CSN will occasionally show Pac-10 football or women's ACC hoops or whatever else. Monday night, for example, CSN showed an ACC women's game between Georgia Tech and Florida State, while MASN offered a men's game between Rider and St. Peter's. Neither is gonna help the yearly average much.
Still, I think the numbers might prove my general contention: that I should just move to Pittsburgh and blog for The Post about Western Pennsylvania's sports teams.
(As always, I should note that The Post has a business relationship with Comcast SportsNet, which will allow me to wear a sweater-vest on regional cable this Thursday night.)
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