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Volume 21 No. 1
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NHL clubs enjoy shortened-season ratings bump, led by Penguins

Editor's note: This story is updated from the print edition.

Just as the NBA’s ratings shot up during its shortened season last year, the NHL is seeing similar gains across its U.S. networks — both national and local.

Twenty-one of the 22 U.S.-based teams for which SportsBusiness Journal obtained ratings information have posted increases so far this season compared to the comparable number of games last year, not through the same point of the season. Nationally, NBC Sports Network is on pace to set its record-high viewership for its NHL games. It is averaging 448,000 viewers through 27 NHL games this season. Its previous high was two years ago when it averaged 348,000 viewers during the 2010-11 season.

The ratings renaissance around the shortened season mirrors the NBA’s performance last season. During the NBA’s shortened 2012-13 season, combined local RSN ratings jumped 18 percent, with 15 of 27 U.S.-based teams showing double digit increases. The NHL is seeing similar enthusiasm.

Pittsburgh Penguins games on Root Sports once again are leading the way for the NHL and represent one of the best marks across all leagues.

The Penguins’ 11.87 local rating is the highest RSN rating for any team in any sport since the Boston Red Sox averaged a 12.2 rating on NESN during its 2007 World Series winning run.

Another good story is in Chicago, where Blackhawks games have averaged a 5.69 rating on Comcast SportsNet Chicago. The Blackhawks have the league’s best record and set an NHL record by going unbeaten through the season’s first 24 games.

Ratings jumps are not just coming from teams that are doing well on the ice. Despite posting the league’s third-worst record as of Thursday, the Sabres have seen a lot of success on television. The team’s 10.13 rating on MSG is second only to the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins.

The Florida Panthers represent the other end of the spectrum. The team has the league’s worst record, and its games post the lowest local TV ratings by far. Panthers games on FS Florida average 4,000 viewers per game. The next lowest is FS Ohio’s Columbus Blue Jackets telecasts, as the team that is battling for a Western Conference playoff spot is averaging 11,000 viewers per game. The Panthers’ 0.24 ratings also is worst; below the Ducks, which average a 0.43 rating on Prime Ticket.

Another problem spot is in Colorado, where the Avalanche have the Western Conference’s worst record and are the only NHL team to show a ratings decline. Its 1.03 rating is down 13 percent from the same number of games last year.

In Canada, Sportsnet holds regional broadcast rights to five of the country’s seven NHL clubs. Four of those teams have seen an increase in viewership through mid-March, according to BBM Canada: Toronto is averaging 860,200 (up 14 percent compared with last season), Edmonton’s average is 265,600 (up 35 percent), Ottawa is averaging 250,100 (up 29 percent) and Calgary’s 208,000 average marks an 8 percent increase. Vancouver has averaged 446,400 viewers on Sportsnet Pacific, down 2 percent from 2011-12.

SportsBusiness Journal analyzed the numbers of 22 U.S.-based clubs. Comparable data for Carolina, Montreal and Winnipeg was not available.

NHL teams’ RSN ratings and audience size at midseason

Top 5
Team RSN Avg. rating (Change*)
Pittsburgh Penguins Root Sports 11.87 (+55.8%)
Buffalo Sabres MSG 10.13 (+17.8%)
Boston Bruins NESN 6.97 (+47.7%)
Chicago Blackhawks CSN Chicago 5.69 (+88.4%)
St. Louis Blues FS Midwest 4.64 (+82.7%)
Bottom 5
Los Angeles Kings FS West 0.63 (+110.0%)
New Jersey Devils MSG+ 0.55 (+205.6%)
New York Islanders MSG+ 0.47 (+147.4%)
Anaheim Ducks Prime Ticket 0.43 (+72.0%)
Florida Panthers FS Florida 0.24 (+20.0%)
Top 5
Team RSN Change in households watching*
Chicago Blackhawks CSN Chicago +92,000
New York Rangers MSG +74,000
Boston Bruins NESN +53,000
Pittsburgh Penguins Root Sports +49,000
Minnesota Wild FS North +33,000
Bottom 5
Washington Capitals CSN Mid-Atlantic +5,000
Columbus Blue Jackets FS Ohio +2,000
San Jose Sharks CSN California +2,000
Florida Panthers FS Florida +1,000
Colorado Avalanche Altitude -2,000
Top 5
Team RSN Avg. No. of households (Change*)
Chicago Blackhawks CSN Chicago 198,000 (+86.8%)
Boston Bruins NESN 165,000 (+47.3%)
Pittsburgh Penguins Root Sports 138,000 (+55.1%)
New York Rangers MSG 133,000 (+125.4%)
Philadelphia Flyers CSN 101,000 (+6.3%)
Bottom 5
Dallas Stars FS Southwest 21,000 (+50.0%)
Phoenix Coyotes FS Arizona 17,000 (+142.9%)
Colorado Avalanche Altitude 16,000 (-11.1%)
Columbus Blue Jackets FS Ohio 11,000 (+22.2%)
Florida Panthers FS Florida 4,000 (+33.3%)
Top 5
Team RSN 2012-13 rating (Change*)
New Jersey Devils MSG+ 0.55 (+205.6%)
New York Islanders MSG+ 0.47 (+147.4%)
Phoenix Coyotes FS Arizona 0.92 (+130.0%)
New York Rangers MSG 1.8 (+125.0%)
Los Angeles Kings FS West 0.63 (+110.0%)
Bottom 5
Buffalo Sabres MSG 10.13 (+17.8%)
Washington Capitals CSN Mid-Atlantic 1.69 (+13.4%)
Philadelphia Flyers CSN 3.41 (+6.9%)
San Jose Sharks CSN California 1.38 (+6.2%)
Colorado Avalanche Altitude 1.03 (-12.7%)

Note: Comparable data for Carolina, Montreal and Winnipeg was not available.
* Changes compared to the same number of games played in 2011-12 season, which as of press time was approximately 30 for each club.

Source: Nielsen