SBJ/February 15-21, 2016/Media

Despite record, Sabres’ local ratings up 55 percent

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The Buffalo Sabres are poised to knock the Pittsburgh Penguins out of the NHL’s local TV ratings lead for the first time in seven seasons.

Viewers have been tuning in to watch Buffalo rookie Jack Eichel, pushing Sabres ratings on MSG to the top.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Through early February, nearly two-thirds of the way through the season, Sabres games on MSG are averaging a 6.81 rating, up 55 percent from last year. That comes despite Buffalo having an on-ice record that’s one of the worst in the Eastern Conference.

But new to the team this year is Jack Eichel, the second overall pick in last year’s NHL draft. Eichel’s addition, paired with other aggressive player acquisitions in the last year, have Sabres fans tuning in again.

The team’s TV ratings fell last season along with the Sabres’ on-ice fortunes. As recently as two seasons ago, Buffalo ranked second leaguewide for local ratings, averaging a 5.56 mark for the 2013-14 season.

NHL teams' midseason RSN ratings

AVG. RATING

TEAM RSN AVG. RATING (CHANGE*)
TOP 5
Buffalo Sabres MSG 6.81 (+55%)
Pittsburgh Penguins Root Sports 5.51 (-19%)
Chicago Blackhawks CSN Chicago 3.91 (-7%)
St. Louis Blues FS Midwest 3.50 (-25%)
Boston Bruins NESN 3.43 (-19%)
BOTTOM 5
New York Islanders MSG+ 0.42 (-24%)
Anaheim Ducks Prime Ticket 0.41 (+41%)
Arizona Coyotes FS Arizona 0.41 (-23%)
New Jersey Devils MSG+ 0.26 (0%)
Florida Panthers FS Florida 0.20 (-9%)

AVG. RATING CHANGE

TEAM RSN CHANGE* (AVG. RATING)
TOP 6
Buffalo Sabres MSG +55% (6.81)
Anaheim Ducks Prime Ticket +41% (0.41)
Los Angeles Kings FS West +39% (0.68)
Tampa Bay Lightning FS Sun +13% (1.28)
Colorado Avalanche Altitude +8% (1.73)
Columbus Blue Jackets FS Ohio +8% (0.96)
BOTTOM 6
Pittsburgh Penguins Root Sports -19% (5.51)
Boston Bruins NESN -19% (3.43)
Arizona Coyotes FS Arizona -23% (0.41)
New York Islanders MSG+ -24% (0.42)
St. Louis Blues FS Midwest -25% (3.50)

* Compared to midseason 2014-2015 data.
Note: Comparable data was unavailable for the Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators and the league's seven Canadian teams.
Source: Nielsen


The TV resurgence comes at a particularly important time for the team: The Sabres’ contract with MSG expires after the 2016-17 season. Buffalo will collect a rights fee of close to $10 million next year in addition to keeping all advertising revenue. The Sabres pay for all production costs.

Meanwhile, Penguins games on Root Sports are averaging a 5.51 rating, which represents a 19 percent drop from this point last season. Only three NHL teams have posted bigger drops this season: Arizona, the New York Islanders and St. Louis. And while Pittsburgh remains in striking distance of a playoff spot, the Penguins’ season has been largely viewed as a failure thus far, especially following the offseason acquisition of forward Phil Kessel.

The NHL team rankings are based on an analysis of ratings information for clubs that make their Nielsen data available. Information on Carolina and Nashville was not available. Ratings also were not available for the league’s seven Canadian teams.

Of the 21 clubs that were analyzed, seven have seen ratings increases from this point last year, 13 have had decreases, and one is flat.

Outside of Buffalo, one of the league’s best ratings stories of the season is playing out in Southern California, where the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks have posted the NHL’s second and third biggest ratings increases — on FS West and Prime Ticket, respectively. Ratings for Kings games are up 39 percent (to a 0.68 average rating), while Ducks games are up 41 percent (0.41 average). Both teams have caught fire in recent months and sit in playoff position in the Pacific Division. Only the Sabres have seen a bigger ratings increase.

Florida, meanwhile, continues to be a trouble spot for the NHL, despite the Panthers’ incredible on-ice success thus far, boasting one of the league’s best records behind the ageless Jaromir Jagr. Panthers games on FS Florida are averaging a 0.20 rating/3,000 homes, both low marks for the league.

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