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Wizards ratings: Still similar to Caps

Chatting at 11:30. Submit questions here.

Since I've posted voluminously and gushingly about the Caps' ratings on CSN in recent weeks, it's only fair to throw in a word about the Washington Wizards.

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.)

By Dan Steinberg  |  February 16, 2010; 10:44 AM ET
Categories:  Caps , Media , Wizards  
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Here's one way to solve this mystery--what were the Wizards' ratings on CSN in their best seasons of 2005 and 2006? Were they leaps and bounds above the 2.8 that the Caps have received in their last 10 games, or somewhere around that level, or even lower? Maybe there's just a diehard base of Wizards fans that is bigger than the diehard base of Caps fans that will watch each team no matter how bad they are, but when the teams are good it evens out.

Just a thought.

Posted by: TheFingerman | February 16, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Maybe there's just a diehard base of Wizards fans that is bigger than the diehard base of Caps fans that will watch each team no matter how bad they are, but when the teams are good it evens out.

Just a thought.

Posted by: TheFingerman | February 16, 2010 11:30 AM

Yeah, or there are just a lot of people in this region who will watch basketball - good Wizards or good opposing players. Good Wizards vs good opponents = big ratings. I don't think it's a diehard Wizards thing - just a lot more general basketball fans than general hockey fans.

Posted by: Kev29 | February 16, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Looks like the actual answer is...people in Washington DC don't watch a lot of professional sports at home. I wonder though, do these ratings take sport's bars into acount?

Posted by: EricS2 | February 16, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Let's just cut the BS and tell it like it is: DC is a majority black city. White people watch hockey, black people watch basketball. Hence, the ratings for basketball will ALWAYS be higher then the ratings for hockey.

Posted by: bukaki23 | February 16, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

DC is a football town first, then basketball. Growing up in the city, my friends and I never knew the first thing about hockey. But of course, there were endless games of pickup basketball going on - and still going on. Where's a good pickup game of hockey these days?

Hockey fans should rejoice! An overall metropolitan area that has almost zero ties to one sport (this ain't the UP Michigan) is showing just-about-even ratings with a sport it holds dear.

Will it continue? After that trade, the on-court product of the Wizards is going nowwhere but south!

Again, I don't know the first thing about Hockey and couldn't recognize one player if he knocked on my front door, but let me say loudly: GO CAPS!!

Posted by: truesense | February 16, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

The District of Columbia WAS overwhelmingly majority Black but uh, have you seen H street NE lately or Mass ave or Logan Circle? lol

Besides, these Comcast ratings take in the whole viewing area (I would think), so suburbs with more diverse populations factor in as well. It's not just Black people in DC watch hoops and White people in DC watch Hockey.

Posted by: truesense | February 16, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

it will change. it'll be interesting to see the next quarter. if wizards ratings hold steady and do not see a precipitous drop there might be something to this.

btw, what have the wizards ratings been for their last ten games? that might be a more apt comparison since the wizards overall number were no doubt bumped up due to early season enthusiasm.

Posted by: PindarPushkin | February 16, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

NBC has got to be just giddy about the Olympic TV ratings. Four nights of trashing the competition and counting (to include NASCAR and the NBA). In addition, their coverage has been getting rave reviews from the media. Quite a change for them after this season of misery.

Posted by: croftonpost | February 16, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't make a bit of difference whether DC is a majority black city or not because the ratings include the much larger burbs. And it is kind of a tempest in a teapot. The Caps ratings are likely to continue strong and go through the roof in the playoffs. The Wiz are likely to decline. So it won't be close by the end of the season.

Posted by: poguesmahone | February 16, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Hockey is still trying to recover from the lockout.

Viewership of the NBA is obviously going to be stronger in the region for a number of reasons. For those of you who are speaking of demographics of the "burbs", take a look at Prince Georges County:

# 62.70% African American
# 27.04% White
# 7.12% Hispanic or Latino

That is from 2005. I can guarantee that this has changed with hispanic/latino rising steadily. I don't know what the hockey demo's are, but it tends to be viewed as a white sport (You could logically attribute it to the racial makeup of the players of the league..). Maybe Leonsis should market more towards Baltimore?

Posted by: ryangee | February 17, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Here's another thought. On nights where both teams play, the Caps are the team that is regularly bumped to CSN+ which isn't in HD and isn't available at all to many area residents. What would the ratings be like if the Caps games were broadcast on CSN in HD all the time?

Posted by: cainoo7x | February 17, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

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