SBJ/20090119/This Week's News

NHL’s attendance, TV ratings both showing increases

For the first time since the 2004-05 lockout, the NHL has increased both its attendance and ratings at the midpoint of a season.

Through 628 games this season, average reported attendance is up 1.5 percent from 2007-08. The increase came despite the fact that the 2009 Winter Classic in Chicago at Wrigley Field held 30,000 fewer fans than the 2008 outdoor game in Buffalo, a game that drew 71,000.

“We’re particularly pleased this year because the world around us is a lot different than it’s been in a long time,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “Most businesses would have reasons to be concerned about a downturn, and so far we haven’t seen it.”

The league increased its attendance in part because 10 of its clubs played to 100 percent capacity during the first half of the season. It also benefited from significant increases in average reported attendance in Chicago, Washington and Boston.

The Chicago Blackhawks led all teams in attendance, averaging 21,592 (excluding the game at Wrigley Field on Jan. 1). That made for a league-high 42 percent increase in reported attendance. The team also led the league in paid attendance increases, with a jump of more than 60 percent from 2007-08, according to league sources.

The success in Chicago comes in Rocky Wirtz’s first complete season as chairman of the team. After taking over the club in October 2007 after his father’s death, Wirtz brought in former Cubs President John McDonough, who overhauled the front office and reinvigorated the franchise with new marketing and locally televised games.

“A strong Chicago market with fan interest is important to the league, and (the Blackhawks’) ability to reconnect with their fan base, which never left, has been nothing short of amazing,” Daly said. “They’re hitting on all cylinders and the fans have embraced what they bring to the rink every night.”

The Washington Capitals saw attendance increase 29.8 percent to an average of 17,959, and as of Jan. 9, the team had increased its paid attendance by 37 percent, putting it in the top 10 in paid admissions, according to league sources. The Boston Bruins increased average attendance 12.3 percent to 16,692.

All six Canadian clubs continued to play to capacity, as did the Minnesota Wild, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and the Blackhawks.

The league’s success in those markets was partly offset by low attendance elsewhere. Five teams reported average attendance below 15,000 — the New York Islanders, Columbus Blue Jackets, Atlanta Thrashers, Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes. The Islanders averaged a league-low 13,462. The other four teams averaged between 14,000 and 15,000 a game.

The Buffalo Sabres lead the NHL in
local TV ratings at midseason.

National and local TV ratings also improved compared with the midway mark in 2007-08. U.S. broadcaster Versus saw total viewers increase to an average of 310,732 through 31 games, compared to 265,314 over the same period in 2007-08. NBC benefited from the tune-in of more than 4.4 million for the 2009 Winter Classic, making it the most-viewed NHL regular-season game in 34 years and drawing a 2.5 rating and 5 share.

Ratings also increased in Canada where the CBC averaged 868,000 viewers a game through 34 telecasts. That number is up from 850,000 viewers a game in 2007-08 but down from 1 million viewers in 2006-07. TSN averaged 483,000 viewers, a 7.2 percent increase, and RDS averaged 648,000 viewers, a 31 percent increase.

Local ratings rose in 15 of 22 markets in the U.S. , according to Nielsen data obtained by sources. (The Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes ratings weren’t available.) The Buffalo Sabres led the league with an 8.87 average local rating per game, and the Pittsburgh Penguins were the second highest with a 6.14 average. The Florida Panthers averaged a league-low 0.15 local rating, while the Islanders had a 0.17 average.


NHL At The Gate
Highest average per game   Biggest increase
Team (# of home dates) Avg. attendance   Team % change
Blackhawks^ (19) 22,604   Blackhawks^ (19) 49.00%
Canadiens (22) 21,273   Capitals (22) 29.80%
Red Wings (21) 19,724   Bruins (21) 12.30%
Flyers (22) 19,413   Blues (21) 8.10%
Maple Leafs (21) 19,301   Red Wings (21) 6.60%
 
Lowest average per game   Biggest decrease*
Islanders (19) 13,462   Lightning (18) -11.60%
Thrashers (21) 14,372   Thrashers (21) -7.90%
Blue Jackets (20) 14,373   Hurricanes (22) -6.60%
Predators (20) 14,427   Senators (20) -4.30%
Coyotes (23) 14,734   Avalanche (21) -4.00%
Note: Games through Jan. 13
^ Includes 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field
* Does not include Buffalo, which hosted the Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium last season, posting attendance of 71,217.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research
NHL Local TV Ratings
Team RSN (# of telecasts) 2008-09 rating Change
Anaheim Ducks Prime Ticket (17) 0.29 11.50%
Atlanta Thrashers SportSouth (27) 0.23 21.10%
Boston Bruins NESN (37) 2.16 53.20%
Buffalo Sabres MSG (38) 8.87 3.70%
Chicago Blackhawks Comcast SportsNet Chicago (26) 1.07 72.60%
Columbus Blue Jackets Fox Sports Ohio (37) 1.43 40.20%
Dallas Stars Fox Sports Southwest (32) 0.52 18.20%
Denver Avalanche Altitude (35) 1.65 21.30%
Detroit Red Wings Fox Sports Detroit (32) 3.7 -21.80%
Florida Panthers Fox Sports Florida (29) 0.15 -16.70%
Los Angeles Kings Fox Sports West (31) 0.38 26.70%
Minnesota Wild Fox Sports North (22) 2.22 -12.90%
New Jersey Devils MSG+ (31) 0.38 15.20%
New York Islanders MSG+ (30) 0.17 -37.00%
New York Rangers MSG (36) 1.03 -3.70%
Philadelphia Flyers Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia (32) 2.22 1.40%
Phoenix Coyotes Fox Sports Arizona (22) 0.5 100.00%
Pittsburgh Penguins Fox Sports Pittsburgh (37) 6.14 22.10%
San Jose Sharks Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (31) 1.25 42.00%
St. Louis Blues Fox Sports Midwest (25) 1.32 -42.90%
Tampa Bay Lightning Sun Sports (31) 0.49 -21.00%
Washington Capitals Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic (31) 1.2 140.00%
Note: Ratings through Jan. 11, 2009, compared with telecasts through Jan. 13, 2008. Comparable data for the Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks was not available.
 
Biggest increase
Team RSN (# of telecasts) 2008-09 rating (through Jan. 11) Change
Washington Capitals Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic (31) 1.2 140.00%
Phoenix Coyotes Fox Sports Arizona (22) 0.5 100.00%
Chicago Blackhawks Comcast SportsNet Chicago (26) 1.07 72.60%
Boston Bruins NESN (37) 2.16 53.20%
San Jose Sharks Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (31) 1.25 42.00%
Biggest decrease
St. Louis Blues Fox Sports Midwest (25) 1.32 -42.90%
New York Islanders MSG+ (30) 0.17 -37.00%
Detroit Red Wings Fox Sports Detroit (32) 3.7 -21.80%
Tampa Bay Lightning Sun Sports (31) 0.49 -21.00%
Florida Panthers Fox Sports Florida (29) 0.15 -16.70%
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research
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