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