Sidney Crosby's return was one of the few things that lived up to the hype. Like a can of forgotten chowder, Crosby showed that he was still very, very good after a year on the shelf. He scored two goals, assisted on two more, and sat atop a white elephant during a postgame parade fit for the Infanta.
For those that tuned in, it was one of the early highlights of the NHL season. Unfortunately, not very many tuned in. From Puck the Media:
Numbers are in for Versus' airing of Monday night's New York Islanders-Pittsburgh Penguins game which marked the return of Sidney Crosby back to the NHL after 10 months following his concussion. PTM Fearless Leader Steve discovers that the viewership numbers nationally were miniscule. Granted, it was up against Monday Night Football on ESPN, the cable ratings killer, but you would think more people would watch. Only an estimated 198,000 viewers?
Granted, the local numbers especially in Pittsburgh were better, but one would expect hockey fans to be interested. Perhaps it was the Islanders not being a national draw, but I thought this would draw higher numbers.
As did I. But in fairness to Sidney Crosby, "The Sing Off" has become quality programming. If Pentatonix doesn't win, I quit.
Still, 200,000 viewers for the primetime hockey event of the season to date seems... well, crappy. What in the world happened?
It wasn't an exclusive broadcast, which may have eaten into the numbers. From Bruce Ciskie:
Now, it's worth noting that the game aired locally in Pittsburgh and New York. Because Versus picked up the game on such short notice, it was not an exclusive broadcast. It's not unusual for non-exclusive games to take a dive in the TV ratings, which is why NBC worked hard to get more exclusive games for its cable outlet in the new NHL television contract.
I would add that, as hyped as the return was, there wasn't a whole lot of time to advertise the game. Crosby's comeback was declared on Sunday, and the game took place only a night later. One day is hardly enough to mount a successful campaign to attract viewers.
Not that Versus would have absolutely killed it if only they had more time. According to Leahy, on Long Island, they switched to non-hockey programming after the 1st due to local blackouts. It seems a bit disorganized to air one period and not the others.
Or maybe they thought the game was over after Crosby scored the first goal? They weren't wrong.
There are other possible explanations: maybe, as Jeremy Roenick posited not too long ago, people are just sick of hearing about Sidney Crosby.
It's understandable. There are religious figures whose returns were less talked about in the days leading up to it. Many may have simply grown tired of hearing his name.
But I'd offer another potential explanation. Maybe Sidney Crosby's drawing power isn't waning; it's just always been overstated.
On Wednesday morning, The Globe & Mail looked at that very idea.
In Canada, Crosby's return drew 1.2 million viewers to CBC, which is, of course, substantially more viewers than Versus saw. Still, it would be foolish to expect the spikiest of ratings spikes now that he's back, especially since his absence didn't affect Canadian ratings in the slightest. From Bruce Dowbiggin:
TSN's national games are bang-on the same number recorded this time last fall - averaging 709,000 viewers through the past weekend. CBC's HNIC has a similar tale to tell. The early game of the doubleheader is up 9 per cent (2.145 million) from same time 2010 with the late game down 13 per cent to 931,000. The Hockey Tonight pregame is up 14 per cent over 2010 to 744,000.
Over at Sportsnet's regional channels, the numbers are similar. The Toronto Maple Leafs (who started hotter than Ashton Kutcher's e-mail) are at 109 per cent of last year's similar ratings through the weekend. The Ottawa Senators (who started abysmally) are at 91 per cent of their number this time last year. Edmonton, another fast starter, sits at 119 per cent over last year's rating, inconsistent Calgary sits at 86 per cent (but up in November) and Vancouver, with Stanley Cup Final hangover, is tracking at 98 per cent.
In effect, while Crosby's return was the story of the year, for much of the continent, it was just one of many. And Crosby's games aren't mountaintop transfigurations; they're just hockey games.
All that said, This may be a good thing. Heaven knows hinging the success of your entire sport on one star is a bad idea -- just ask golf.