SBJ/April 16 - 22, 2007/This Weeks News

NHL closes with rush at the gate

Several late-season pushes for playoff spots lifted the NHL to its second regular-season attendance record, but the league’s success in arenas was offset by mixed results on TV, where regional ratings fell and national ratings remained relatively flat.

The Sabres (in blue) saw gains at the gate
and posted high RSN numbers

The league, which set its first attendance record last season since 2001-02, built on that success with minor growth this year. Average attendance was up 0.1 percent, to 16,954 a game.

Noting that the league was behind in attendance in October and November, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly credited a late push for the record. He said, “The incredible closeness between the first seed and eighth seed and ninth, 10th, 11th seeds created a playoff environment that hasn’t always existed in the past,” he said.

The league also benefited from more than 10 percent growth in attendance for the Carolina Hurricanes, last year’s Stanley Cup champions, and the Buffalo Sabres, this year’s Eastern Conference champions. Their success offset attendance losses of nearly 12 percent in St. Louis, where the Blues played to 66 percent capacity, and a 9 percent loss in Boston (see NHL Turnstile Tracker, page 22).

 Though in-venue attendance was strong, the league failed to generate any television traction. Regionally, the league saw ratings fall for 11 of the 24 U.S. teams and remain flat for nine others.

Some of its biggest drops occurred in markets known as hockey havens. Detroit, which clinched the Western Conference, finished with a 3.5 regional television rating on FSN Detroit, down 25 percent from last season and 42 percent from 2003-04. The Boston Bruins, who finished six points out of the playoffs, averaged a 1.6 rating on NESN, a 24 percent drop from 2005-06 and a 33 percent drop from 2003-04.

The league’s best RSN results came in small markets, Buffalo and Pittsburgh, which averaged a 5.2 regional rating.

Daly said the results were reflective of a larger trend in which regional ratings have declined in all segments.

Nationally, NBC was slightly down with a 0.94 Nielsen rating over nine telecasts through April 1, a 4.1 percent drop from the 0.98 rating averaged over six telecasts through the same period last year. The average number of households was down 5 percent, 1.036 million from 1.090 million.

“I’m not discouraged by NBC’s ratings,” Daly said. “We haven’t seen the growth we’d like to see, but that’s where our efforts to introduce flexible scheduling and maximizing matchups next year will help.”

On cable, Versus reported its average household impressions rose 31 percent to 160,134 households and its total viewers increased to 212,366 from 162,161 last year. Still, it finished the regular season with the same 0.2 household cable rating that it had in 2005-06. “Where we were coming from and where we were last year, this is significant growth,” Daly said.

TV results were similarly mixed in Canada, where the return of hockey fueled record household viewership in 2005-06. CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada” saw 1.439 million households tune in to its 7 p.m. broadcast, a 4 percent rise, but only 766,000 households watched the late game, a 20 percent drop.

TSN averaged 425,000 households, down 12 percent from last season but up 24 percent from 2003-04, the season before the lockout.

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