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NHL has least diverse, but most advertiser friendly, TV audience

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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What does the NHL’s television audience look like?

Golden Globe hosts, actually: Rich, white and increasingly female.

Paulsen of Sports Media Watch just completed a multi-part demographic study of sports television audiences, including that of the National Hockey League. They were based on 2013 sports viewership, which means the NHL conclusions are based on the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.

His findings:

1. The NHL Has The Least Diverse Audience For Its Championship Round

Hockey’s long been the butt of “Stuff White People Like” jokes, and like any good joke there’s an element of truth to it.

Consider first that the audience for the NBA Final was between 55 and 61 percent minority fans; either African-American, Hispanic or “Asian” according to SMW.

The Stanley Cup Final, in contrast:

The Stanley Cup Final was an especially weak performer among minority viewers. African Americans made up between 1% and 5% of the audience for each game, Hispanics made up between 2% and 6%, and Asian viewers made up between 3% and 4%. Overall, the demographics made up just 6-13% of the audience for each game, making the Stanley Cup Final easily the least diverse sporting event examined.

This isn’t exactly news. The NHL has long tried to figure out how to attract demographics that don’t have a cultural tie to ice hockey, from “Hockey in Harlem”-like community outreach and by trotting out Willie O’Ree everywhere from all-star games to elementary schools.

I view these numbers like I do the USA Hockey participation numbers for minorities, and that’s with optimism and patience. That the NHL has achieved what it’s achieved without tapping these audiences is impressive, just like USA Hockey’s progress is impressive without having a diverse pool of athletes to choose from. It is, in my opinion, a matter of time before the U.S. starts producing more Seth Joneses and Emerson Etems; and it’s a matter of time before inroads into minority TV audiences are made, because the fan bases for teams like the Blackhawks keep expanding.

If we look back at these numbers in 10 years, I think we’ll see the needle will have moved to a more diverse audience.

2. The NHL Has Strong Female Viewership

From SMW:

Female viewers made up between 37% and 40% of the audience for the NBA Finals, with 10.6 million tuning into Game 7 — 40% of the total audience (26.3M). For the World Series, female viewers were 39-41% of the audience, topped by 7.9 million for Game 6 — 41% of the total (19.2M). Women made up similar proportions of the audience for the Stanley Cup Final (between 36 and 42%), NCAA Tournament Final Four (38-39%), Bowl Championship Series (33-36%), and WNBA Finals (34-40%).

So despite being a knuckle-dragging sport filled with blood and violence and deplorable behavior … women are nearly making up half the viewership for the Stanley Cup Final.

(One thought on this: Is there a Chicago effect in these numbers, considering the strength of their female fan base?)

The bottom line is that woman hockey fans are significant, important part of the overall viewing audience in the U.S. And that’s even with male fans being myopic, clubby jerks to them because they assume boobs equal lack of hockey knowledge.

3. Finally, We Are Young … So Let’s Buy Something

In its summation of the NHL’s audience, SMW writes:

The NHL may not have the numbers of the other leagues, but it skewed younger than every event but the NBA and had the most affluent audience of the events examined. Advertisers thirst for young audiences with disposable income, and the NHL would be in great shape if it could attract more viewers. One problem — 2013 was an unusually good year for the league, and the numbers may drop back to Earth this season. Another problem — the Stanley Cup Final had the least diversity of any event examined.

The NHL has always had a fan base with disposable income, which explains why games with preposterous ticket prices get sold out and Jersey Fouls get created. It’s the reason why, even in the years when hockey was an afterthought, the NHL has always been able to attract advertisers.

But yeah … we need more viewers. In the NHL’s defense, hockey’s really only been cool for five years, but still: More viewers, more coverage from hockey-bashing media gatekeepers who watch the ratings like a bellwether instead of more important metrics like social media impact.

This all speaks to an annual demand from your friends at Puck Daddy to all U.S. hockey fans:

Every year, bring someone that’s never been to an NHL game to his or her first NHL game.

No matter the gender, race, age or any other demographic: Take a hockey virgin to their first live hockey game, and watch as they join our glorious Borg Collective of puckheads.

(Seriously, what do we need you do? Sign a contract, promising to do this every year?)

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