SBJ/January 23-29, 2012/Media

TWC-MSG fight threatens Sabres’ ratings lead

The Buffalo Sabres have the NHL’s highest local TV ratings so far this season, but the team’s perch atop the local ratings list is precarious given MSG Network’s three-week-long carriage battle with Time Warner Cable.

On Jan. 1, MSG Network and MSG Plus went dark in more than 2 million Time Warner Cable homes in the New York City and Buffalo markets. The two sides are negotiating a new deal but don’t appear close.

Two weeks into the new year, the dispute hasn’t affected local TV ratings substantially, but with fewer homes accessing the networks, the potential for a greater effect does exist.

“You have seen a slight drop-off in ratings,” as a result of the Time Warner Cable dispute, said MSG Media President Mike Bair. “But the ratings in Buffalo were so high to begin with.”

The Sabres’ numbers may come as a surprise. Despite a strong fan base, the team has largely underperformed on the ice this year and is mired in fourth place in its Northeast Division. But that hasn’t stopped the team from posting an NHL-best average local TV rating of 7.77, representing 50,000 homes. That marks a 15 percent jump from the team’s midseason mark last year.

The New York Rangers, who last week were tied atop the NHL in points and were featured in HBO’s “24/7” series this season, have seen a 7 percent increase, with a 0.87 average rating and 64,000 homes for its games. The other “24/7” participant, the Philadelphia Flyers, has seen a 65 percent ratings jump.

Overall, the NHL’s local TV ratings are up 10 percent in the United States for the first half of the season.

Nationally, ratings on NBC Sports Network are flat, though viewership is up. Through 40 telecasts this season, NBCSN is averaging a 0.2 U.S. rating and 330,000 viewers. The channel’s opening game, between the Flyers and Boston Bruins on Oct. 6, brought its biggest regular-season number ever, with 874,000 viewers. As of last week, seven games had topped 500,000 viewers on NBC Sports Network, compared to just three at this point last year.

The league’s biggest feel-good story locally is in Boston, where the Bruins have carried over the momentum from their 2011 Stanley Cup win to post the biggest local TV ratings increase this season. NESN’s average rating of 5.25 (third-highest in the league) is up a whopping 89.5 percent from last year. The average of 125,000 homes that tune in to Bruins games is the highest in the NHL.

On the downside, Dallas Stars games on FS Southwest have seen the biggest drop, down almost 43 percent to a 0.52 average rating. And MSG’s other two teams are not doing as well as the Rangers. The New York Islanders have the second-lowest average rating of U.S.-based NHL teams; the New Jersey Devils have the third-lowest. The Islanders’ 0.23 average rating is down 23 percent from last year; the Devils’ 0.27 average is off 39 percent.

Hockey in Miami continues to underwhelm, as well. An average of just 3,000 homes are tuning in to Florida Panthers games on FS Florida.

NHL TEAMS’ RSN RATINGS

AVERAGE RATING
Top 5
TEAM RSN AVG. RATING
Buffalo Sabres MSG 7.77
Pittsburgh Penguins Root Sports 7.55
Boston Bruins NESN 5.25
Chicago Blackhawks CSN Chicago 3.23
Philadelphia Flyers CSN Philadelphia 3.23
Bottom 6
Los Angeles Kings FS West 0.33
Phoenix Coyotes FS Arizona 0.33
Anaheim Ducks Prime Ticket 0.28
New Jersey Devils MSG Plus 0.27
New York Islanders MSG Plus 0.23
Florida Panthers FS Florida 0.20
 
RATING CHANGE FROM 2010-11
Top 5
TEAM RSN CHANGE
Boston Bruins NESN +89.5%
San Jose Sharks CSN California +81.6%
Tampa Bay Lightning Sun Sports +66.7%
Philadelphia Flyers CSN Philadelphia +64.8%
Nashville Predators FS Tennessee +50.0%
Bottom 5
Los Angeles Kings FS West -25.0%
Anaheim Ducks Prime Ticket -26.3%
Phoenix Coyotes FS Arizona -34.0%
New Jersey Devils MSG Plus -38.6%
Dallas Stars FS Southwest -42.9%
 
VIEWERSHIP
Top 5
TEAM RSN AVG. NO. OF HHS
Boston Bruins NESN 125,000
Chicago Blackhawks CSN Chicago 113,000
Philadelphia Flyers CSN Philadelphia 97,000
Pittsburgh Penguins Root Sports 88,000
New York Rangers MSG 64,000
Bottom 5
Dallas Stars FS Southwest 13,000
Columbus Blue Jackets FS Ohio 9,000
Nashville Predators FS Tennessee 6,500
Phoenix Coyotes FS Arizona 6,000
Florida Panthers FS Florida 3,000
 
VIEWERSHIP CHANGE FROM 2010-11
Top 5
TEAM RSN CHANGE IN AVG. NO. OF HHS
Boston Bruins NESN +57,000
Philadelphia Flyers CSN Philadelphia +38,000
Chicago Blackhawks CSN Chicago +24,000
San Jose Sharks CSN California +16,000
Minnesota Wild FS North +12,000
Bottom 5
Los Angeles Kings FS West -7,000
Dallas Stars FS Southwest -11,000
New Jersey Devils MSG Plus -13,000
Pittsburgh Penguins Root Sports -17,000
Detroit Red Wings FS Detroit -19,000

Note: Viewership data for the Carolina Hurricanes and for the NHL’s seven Canadian teams was not available. In the event of a tie, teams are listed alphabetically. Compiled by John Ourand and David Broughton Source: Nielsen

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