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For the fifth consecutive time, the Pittsburgh Penguins led the way among NHL clubs for local-market TV ratings for the league’s regular season.
The ranking is based on an analysis of ratings information for clubs that make their Nielsen data available. The NHL’s regular season ended Sunday.
The Sabres (below) posted impressive ratings, given their record, but will finish far behind powerful division champs Pittsburgh.
Photos by:GETTY IMAGES
The Penguins have a pair of superstars in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin who are proven drawing cards but they have continued to thrive despite their lineup being depleted by injuries and illness this season,
The second-place ratings finish by the Sabres, meanwhile, is a testament to the loyalty of the Buffalo fan base. The team finished last in the 30-team NHL this year, struggling from the outset of the season. Despite that poor play on the ice and some dysfunction in the front office — former hero Pat LaFontaine was named president of business operations early in the season but stepped down three months later — Sabres fans continued to tune in to MSG Network.
The Boston Bruins, like the Penguins a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, have been a good-news story in Boston. The Bruins posted the best record in the Eastern Conference, and their games on NESN had the league’s third-highest average rating, at 5.04.
One of the league’s best local stories is in Arizona, where Coyotes games saw an 85 percent ratings increase from 2011-12, the last complete, 82-game NHL season. (Teams last year played 48-game schedules after the lockout.) Under new ownership, the Coyotes have been competitive on the ice, and their 0.74 average rating was in the middle of the pack of U.S. teams monitored by SportsBusiness Journal.
NHL teams' RSN viewership
TEAM RSN AVG. RATING (CHANGE*) Pittsburgh Penguins Root Sports 7.57 (-4%) Buffalo Sabres MSG 5.56 (-13%) Boston Bruins NESN 5.04 (+7%) Chicago Blackhawks CSN Chicago 4.33 (+40%) St. Louis Blues FS Midwest 4.05 (+17%)
TEAM RSN CHANGE* (AVG. RATING) Phoenix Coyotes FS Arizona +85% (0.74) New York Islanders MSG Plus +71% (0.36) Chicago Blackhawks CSN Chicago +40% (4.33) Minnesota Wild FS North +35% (2.94) New York Rangers MSG +32% (1.29)
AVERAGE AUDIENCE SIZE
TEAM (U.S. T.V. MARKET RANK) RSN AVG. NO. OF HHs (CHANGE*) Chicago Blackhawks (3) CSN Chicago 153,000 (+40%) Boston Bruins (7) NESN 123,000 (+7%) New York Rangers (1) MSG 96,000 (+32%) Pittsburgh Penguins (23) Root Sports 89,000 (-4%) Detroit Red Wings (11) FS Detroit 67,000 (+2%)
* Change compared to marks posted through the complete 2011-12 season, which was the most recent 82-game slate for clubs. In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, teams played 48 games each starting in January instead of the usual 82 games starting in October.
Note: Comparable data for Carolina, Nashville and the league's seven Canadian teams were not available.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal analysis of Nielsen data
The New Jersey Devils are at the bottom of the league’s measured local ratings. Despite a fight for a playoff berth into the final week of the regular season, Devils games on MSG Plus averaged a league-low 0.18 rating this season, down 45 percent from the 2011-12.
SportsBusiness Journal analyzed ratings data from 21 of the NHL’s 23 U.S.-based clubs; information on Carolina and Nashville was not available. Ratings information also was not available for the league’s seven Canadian teams.
These days, almost all the innovation in sports media is coming on the digital side. But what made “Teamcast” and “Megacast” unique is that the innovation came to the television screen. For me, this type of programming has the potential to mark the biggest change in how people watch sports on TV since DirecTV launched its Red Zone Channel in 2005.
During the Final Four, Turner’s “Teamcast” allowed fans to watch the games on TNT or truTV with announcers and producers favoring a specific team. Three months earlier, ESPN’s “Megacast” around the BCS championship allowed viewers to see the game in real time from different points of view on ESPNews and ESPN2.
In both cases the results were good enough that network executives expect to do them again. “We definitely aren’t going to pull it off the table,” Craig Barry, Turner Sports’ senior vice president of production, said of “Teamcast.”
It’s easy to see why. “Teamcast” delivered gaudy ratings numbers. During the Kentucky-Wisconsin game, TNT’s Kentucky feed drew 4.3 million viewers, which cracked the top 10 for all cable programs on the week. TruTV’s Wisconsin feed drew 1.6 million viewers, a figure that would delight many leagues and many cable channels. Those figures come on top of the 10.4 million viewers who watched the traditional telecast on TBS, making it the most watched college basketball game in cable history.
This offers more proof that these telecasts don’t cannibalize the main feed.
Ratings for the supplemental feeds were not nearly as high for ESPN’s “Megacast.” ESPN2’s “BCS Title Talk,” where ESPN analysts discussed the game in real time, drew 389,000 viewers, and ESPNews’ “BCS Film Room,” where college coaches analyzed the game, drew 100,000. The regular BCS telecast on ESPN drew 25.6 million viewers, which stands as cable TV’s biggest audience so far this year.
Despite the low viewer numbers on ESPN2 and ESPNews, the effort received much critical praise, and word-of-mouth support around “Megacast” persuaded ESPN to give it another run.
“I have every expectation that we will do it again around the college football playoff,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s senior vice president of programming acquisitions.
In sports media, competitors are not shy about copying innovative ideas. I can see Fox offering a similar suite of services around the World Series this October or NBC supplementing its Super Bowl telecast with an alternate offering on NBC Sports Network. It wouldn’t surprise me to see ESPN try something around the NBA Finals this summer.
“It’s an incredibly simple notion,” Magnus said. “It wasn’t in a programmer’s DNA to do anything to detract from the main event in the past. In the world we live in today audiences are so fragmented. The notion that you can capture more fans and more viewers through multiple presentations is not as far-fetched as it probably was 10 years ago.”
For Turner and ESPN efforts next year, viewers should expect tweaks. Look for Turner to do more to direct viewers to the TBS telecast — using something like an on-screen bug. Given the promotion in earlier rounds, I was surprised by the confusion around Turner’s channels. In fact, that confusion could account for the high viewership numbers on TNT and truTV.
I expect ESPN to make it easier to watch games from its supplemental channels. On the coaches’ show, the game was on in the background, making it difficult to follow. ESPN will fix that problem next year.
For Turner, the “Teamcast” worked as another way for the company to surround a big event like the Final Four, in addition to its digital and social media offerings. This was the first time the Final Four was telecast on cable. “Teamcast” showed some of the advantages of producing a big event in a cable environment.
“Because we’re in the business of media, and not just television, we look at it from a 360-degree view,” Barry said. “Between the ratings and the social canvas and the digital distribution, this was clearly a successful event for us.”
John Ourand can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.