SBD/Issue 121/Sports Media

NHL Seeing Mixed Post-Olympics Ratings Impact Thus Far

NBC Earns 1.2 Overnight Rating For Sunday's
Red Wings-Blackhawks Game

NBC earned a 1.2 overnight Nielsen rating for yesterday's Red Wings-Blackhawks game from 12:30-3:00pm ET, which marked the net's first NHL telecast since the end of the Vancouver Games. The rating was up from the comparable 1.0 overnight for Bruins-Rangers during the same weekend last year, but down from a 1.3 overnight for Penguins-Capitals on February 7, which was the net's last NHL telecast before the Olympics (THE DAILY). In N.Y., Bob Raissman wrote there "won't be any residual ratings benefits coming the NHL's way" from the league's participation in the Vancouver Games. MSG earned a 0.96 local rating for Thursday's Penguins-Rangers game, while SportsNet N.Y. earned a 1.13 local rating for Thursday afternoon's Cardinals-Mets exhibition. Raissman wrote if a "marquee contest like Penguins-Rangers can't beat a meaningless exhibition baseball game in the ratings department, well, so much for all that Olympic noise" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/7). However, in Pittsburgh, Kevin Gorman noted Tuesday's Sabres-Penguins game earned an 11.7 local rating on FSN Pittsburgh, ranking the game "second only to Mario Lemieux's comeback game in December 2000 in ratings for a regular-season game on FSN." Penguins RW Bill Guerin said the TV ratings for the Olympics were "through the roof, so you've got to strike while iron is hot and get something done." Penguins and Canada C Sidney Crosby added, "I think they did capitalize when you had Canada and the U.S., and you had that many people watching" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 3/7). Pilson Communications President Neal Pilson said the Olympics' impact on ratings needs to be kept "in perspective." He noted when track and field is "in the Olympics package, it will get huge numbers, but when you put track and field in a different configuration, it gets much lower numbers." In N.Y., Ethan Sacks writes it "may be another 30 years before the NHL gets this much of a boost out of a Winter Olympics again." The '14 Olympics are in Sochi, "an eight-hour time difference" from the East Coast (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/7).

VERSUS, DIRECTV NEED A DEAL: In Albany, Pete Dougherty noted ratings on Versus for the first three NHL games after the Olympics were down, though network officials said that three games "isn't a long enough time period to spot a trend." But Dougherty wrote, "How about getting a deal done with DirecTV, which has 17 million subscribers?" Dougherty: "This is a time the NHL needs to capitalize on the potential to draw [new] fans. Depriving a large chunk of the nation the opportunity to see games isn't going to get that done" (TIMESUNION.com, 3/5). In Denver, Adrian Dater writes the lack of a DirecTV-Versus deal is a "shame, because the NHL needs all the potential TV viewers they can get" (DENVER POST, 3/8).

ISSUES TO SORT THROUGH: In N.Y., Dave Anderson wrote the future of hockey at the Olympics is "now at the mercy of the NHL's concern about a Russian time zone during an interruption to its season, the price of television rights to both the Olympics and the NHL, and the possibility of European players, notably Russians, defecting for two weeks." NBC and ESPN, the expected bidders for the Sochi and '16 Rio de Janiero Games, "will need to know whether the NHL" will play in Sochi. If the NHL does not, bids "will probably be lower." Also, "another factor for NBC is that its NHL contract for Sunday afternoon and postseason games ends" after the '10-11 season, and if NHL players are "not promised for Sochi, a new NBC deal could be jeopardized" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/7). The DAILY NEWS' Raissman wrote NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is "playing it close to the vest" in saying the league has not yet decided whether to participate in the '14 Sochi Games. Raissman: "Ya think Bettman wants something in return for committing his troops to play so far away? Like maybe some straight-up dough from NBC for the rights to air its NHL Sunday afternoon games along with a package of playoff dates?" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/7).

NHL Has Some Legitimate Business
Concerns Regarding Olympic Participation

UNDERSTANDABLE POSITION: In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote from a fan's standpoint, "especially from a North American's view, it's impossible to think the NHL would pull out" of the Sochi Games, "especially with the Vancouver buzz still radiating." But if the Gold Medal final had featured Slovakia-Finland instead of Canada-U.S., it is a "good bet the only Olympic TV viewing across Canada and the US Sunday would have been for a glimpse of Michael Buble" at the Closing Ceremony. The NHL has a "number of legitimate business concerns" regarding participating in the Olympics, including that, "first and foremost, it's a tough nut to shut down a league -- its No. 1 source of income being ticket sales -- for two weeks in the thick of the season" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/7). Former North Stars GM Lou Nanne "believes NHL fans get short-changed when the league takes two weeks off to allow players to take part in the Olympics." Nanne: "As a fan, I would like to see it continue because I'd be attending it. ... But from a business point of view, they probably shouldn't continue." Nanne added that "outside of the great exposure" provided during the Olympics, the NHL "doesn't get anything out of the deal" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 3/7). But in Denver, Terry Frei wrote the "positives for the NHL outweigh the negatives." Frei: "I believe the NHL ultimately will participate in the 2014 Games" (DENVER POST, 3/7).

WINNING GAMEPLANS: In Sacramento, Bill Bradley wrote Bettman should make "such a tournament part of every season." The NHL "could ditch the All-Star Game and take a two-week break in the middle of each season." Bradley: "Let players participate in the Olympics every four years. In the other three years, the NHL runs the World Cup in the same format using NHL arenas." Bradley wrote such a format "sets the league apart from others; it garners international exposure every year; it rekindles fan interest at midseason; and an Olympic break becomes part of the league's routine." Such a format "might mean cutting back the schedule, but the pros far outweigh the cons for a league trying to regain its place in the sports landscape" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 3/6). In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones wrote the Olympics "certainly didn't hurt the NHL, but other steps must be taken for the league to increase its popularity." The NHL in order to attract more fans could "get back on ESPN" and "put another team in Toronto." The league also should explore contraction; have players wear microphones; "get rid of, or at least alter, the salary cap;" "find a new commissioner;" and shorten the season and playoffs (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 3/7).

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