Just What the Doctor Ordered

The magic of the 2008-09 NHL season climaxed at the perfect time, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.  We have had this discussion in the past about how the NHL struggles to compete with the other major professional sports in TV viewership, mainly because of coverage by a lesser-known network in Versus.  NBC picks up the “Game of the Week” starting in January, but ratings still struggle.  But something happened in these finals which has the NHL thanking the heavens above.  Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals was the most-watched NHL game in 36 years.  The game when the Pittsburgh Penguins made history.

Game 7 averaged a total of 7.51 million viewers throughout the game, maxing out at 9.07 million at the conclusion of the game, including the Cup raising ceremony.  The chart below shows the number of viewers broken down by each half-hour, and you can see the clear increase in viewers from start to finish.  Courtesy: tvbythenumbers.com

8:00     NBC    NHL Stanley Cup Finals: Game 7                     5.78 million viewers

8:30     NBC    NHL Stanley Cup Finals: Game 7                     6.37 million viewers

9:00     NBC    NHL Stanley Cup Finals: Game 7                     7.27 million viewers

9:30     NBC    NHL Stanley Cup Finals: Game 7                     7.55 million viewers

10:00   NBC    NHL Stanley Cup Finals: Game 7                     9.01 million viewers

10:30   NBC    NHL Stanley Cup Finals: Game 7                     9.07 million viewers

To get a better idea of how many additional viewers witnessed the finals this year compared to years’ past, take a look at the graph and stats below.


Full Data for NHL Stanley Cup Finals Ratings, 1995-2008

Year     Viewers (million)           Network          Teams

1995    5.21                             FOX                New Jersey Devils vs. Detroit Red Wings

1996    5.09                             FOX                Colorado Avalanche vs. Florida Panthers

1997    6.37                             FOX                Detroit Red Wings vs. Philadelphia Flyers

1998    4.83                             FOX                Detroit Red Wings vs. Washington Capitals

1999    4.87                             FOX                Dallas Stars vs. Buffalo Sabres

2000    5.51                             ABC                New Jersey Devils vs. Dallas Stars

2001    5.06                             ABC                Colorado Avalanche vs. New Jersey Devils

2002    5.77                             ABC                Detroit Red Wings vs. Carolina Hurricanes

2003    3.63                             *ABC/ESPN     New Jersey Devils vs. Anaheim Ducks

2004    3.29                             *ABC/ESPN     Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Calgary Flames

2005                                                            Strike, no season

2006    2.83                             **NBC/OLN     Carolina vs, Edmonton

2007    1.76                             NBC/VS          Ottawa vs. Anaheim

2008    4.48                             NBC/VS          Pittsburgh vs. Detroit

*ABC had 5 telecasts & ESPN had 2 telecasts so this is the combined average of both networks.

**NBC had 5 telecasts & OLN had 2 telecasts so this is the combined average of both networks.

Prior to this season, the highest viewership for a final in the past 15 years took place in 1997 when 6.37 million people watched the Red Wings beat the Flyers in four straight games.  And starting in 2002, the number of viewers was on a steady decline until last season.  What does this all mean?  The NHL is on its way back up.

Chris wrote an article not too long ago describing this incline.  Read: NHL on ESPN?!

Although the contract between the NHL and Versus extends for another two years, it’s likely we could see the NHL on ESPN once again.  If the trend continues, and ratings continue to grow, the NHL could get back in the spotlight.

So what needs to happen next?  Well first, the NHL does not want Pittsburgh vs. Detroit III.  However, they do need superstars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Alex Ovechkin.  They need drama.  They need overtimes.  They need a competitive series.  They need a team America likes to watch.  The last thing the NHL needs is a series like Carolina and Edmonton from 2006 (which had a measly 2.83 million viewers, even though it went to seven games). 

The NHL can only hope that the magic of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs will spill over into 2010.  But for now, the league will soak-up the sun of a successful season. 


Dan | PPT


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