There was a double-dip of frustrating NHL ratings news in the U.S. on Friday, as NBC’s regular-season numbers dropped and the first night of the Stanley Cup Playoffs stumbled out of the gate.
First, the playoff news: Game 1 of the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets on USA Network was down 24 percent from the Rangers and Penguins last season and down 3 percent from the Islanders and Capitals in 2015. On NBCSN, the St. Louis Blues vs. the Minnesota Wild were down 25 percent and the New York Rangers vs. the Montreal Canadiens were down 27 percent. All of this was reported by Sports Media Watch.
In slightly more promising news, the Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs Game 1 on USA Network on Thursday night drew the highest overnight rating for the NHL on USA. That’s despite one team being in Canada, and local coverage in D.C. cutting into the audience.
The regular-season story for the NHL on NBC was a frustrating one. From Paulsen on Sports Media Watch:
The 2016-17 NHL regular season averaged 467,000 viewers across NBC and NBCSN, down 7% from last year (503K) and down 5% from 2015 (503K). That does not include streaming, which boosted the average to 475,000 — down 6% from last year (505K). Coverage on the NBC broadcast network averaged 1.2 million viewers over 15 games, down 20% from 11 windows last year (1.5M) and down 16% from 13 two years ago (1.5M). It was the least-watched NHL season on a broadcast network in at least seven years and probably further back.
On NBCSN, regular season games averaged 336,000 viewers — down 11% from last year (378K), down 4% from two years ago (349K) and the smallest average since 2011-12 (332K).
As Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily notes:
Good season for NHL streaming on NBC digital, but not on TV. NBC lowest broadcast TV avg. in at least 25 years. NBCSN lowest since 2011-2012
— Austin Karp (@AustinKarp) April 13, 2017
A couple of factors to consider here:
* A six-percent decline off 505,000 viewers is concerning but not alarming. Most of all, it’s not irreversible, as last season’s spike in viewership off a lackluster 2014-15 shows.
* The NHL had three of its dependable ratings drivers – the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres – well outside the playoff picture. They also had the misfortune of seeing the Colorado Avalanche, who had the fifth-highest number of appearances among Western Conference teams, being the worst team in hockey.
* The outdoor games ratings bump was a bust this season. The Centennial Classic didn’t draw Winter Classic ratings on Jan. 1, and the Winter Classic hit a new low on Jan. 2 for NBC.
* There was some good news buried at the bottom of the Sports Media Watch report:
NBC and NBCSN grossed 39.5 million viewers over the course of the season (who watched at least six minutes of any game) — up 7% from last year (36.8M). The networks aired five more games than last year (110 to 105).
Essentially, the “reach” number is anyone who watches a game for six minutes or more. So more people were checking out games. But as the average ratings show, they weren’t sticking around.
* Finally, and this might be the most important point to take away here: Times are tough all over for sports on television. The NBA’s ratings were down 17 percent in the regular season.
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