A couple reports from Sports Business Daily caught my eye regarding local NHL and NBA ratings. Unlike ESPN, we can at least try to give credit where it's due for reports and research. You can go here to check out the NBA details and here to look at the NHL numbers, but below are some random thoughts on a slow February day on what we can learn from some of these numbers including some good and some very, very bad news for some teams.
*The NHL Is Coming Back... In Certain Places
-The Penguins are unsurprisingly the leader in the local NHL ratings pack at over 100k homes watching Pittsburgh broadcasts. As Sports Media Watch points out, that's only behind the Spurs and Cardinals in terms of local broadcasts of the major pro sports. Other NHL powerhouse markets like Detroit, Boston and Buffalo rate highly and do very well. However, southern teams like the Panthers, Thrashers, and Lightning have Christina Aguileraish hideous ratings. A whopping 3,000 homes tune in to Florida Panthers games. 3000! Division III and high school games can pull better numbers than that! Considering over 2.5 million people live in Miami-Dade County, these numbers seem even more atrocious. Florida is 22nd in attendance, but at least they pull better numbers than the New York Islanders who are the only team getting less than 10,000 fans a game and have seen one of the biggest dips in TV ratings.
*Who Thought These Were Good NHL Markets?
-A look across the warm weather teams shows a lethal combination of terrible TV ratings and poor attendance. Here's the bottom 5 on the SBD chart with homes watching TV and their attendance rank:
5) Tampa Bay - 14k homes / 19th attendance
4) Columbus - 10k homes / 27th attendance
3) Phoenix - 9k homes / 29th attendance
2) Atlanta - 6k homes / 28th attendance
1) Florida - 3k homes / 22nd attendance
Yikes. The T Ocho Show has done better numbers than that! Then again, towns like Phoenix, Miami, and Atlanta have never struck me as hockey hotbeds. Hockey in Miami doesn't exactly strike me as a happy marriage like chocolate and peanut butter. I can speak to the situation in Columbus personally - the Blue Jackets are an afterthought everywhere. With Ohio State football and basketball, the CBJ are always going to be second at best on the local totem pole and there's not that much room anyways with the Bucks' dominance. Of course, one playoff appearance in their history doesn't help either. Furthermore, none of these franchises have been cemented in these towns for any great length of time so there's not a wide base of hockey fans passed down from generation to generation. I can see at least one of these teams relocating or getting the ax in the next decade easily.
*The NBA Is Living And Living Well
-Local NBA TV numbers are improving across the sport with more teams seeing increases rather than decreases. Established NBA towns like San Antonio and Salt Lake City put up great numbers. The Spurs are in fact on track for some of the best local TV ratings the sport has seen since the days of Jordan. The traditionally big NBA teams like the Lakers, Celtics, and Knicks are strong, but perhaps the biggest surprise is the increase of eyes watching bad teams. Ratings have dramatically increased for the T'Wolves and Clippers (in large part to Blake Griffin), showing there are encouraging signs league wide... at least until the impending lockout.
-The Heat are naturally the biggest winners with The Decision and the Superfriends taking their talents to South Beach. Heat ratings have more than doubled while Cavs ratings have been more than cut in half. However, it's not all doom and gloom for the Cavs - their local ratings are still in the Top 10 nationally. In the midst of a 25 game losing streak, I'd say that's one of the most impressive statistics I've seen this year. Or, it could just mean that Cleveland sports fans are gluttons for punishment. At least Indians season is right around the corner!
*The Big Picture
-The NHL is in a much healthier position than they were ten years ago, although there are really troubling numbers in some markets. WIth the rise of the Penguins and traditional hockey markets like Detroit, Philly, Boston and others producing good teams, recent years have seen a growth in popularity. However, with a new TV contract negotiation on the horizon, will the NHL be able to capitalize on their recent success in certain areas? With talks already underway on the next TV contract, will the NHL stick with NBC and whatever comes out of Comcast/VS/NBC or move back to ESPN? In my opinion, the NHL would be best served to stay with NBC and not be treated like a seventh banana at ESPN where we've seen NASCAR fade off into the distance. Going back to ESPN would provide an initial boost in notoriety, but I can't see it lasting. For the NBA, with record ratings on ESPN and TNT and several marquee teams and players, the current situation seems like paradise. All seems well until you read headlines like this or this. The NBA's potential lockout is much more threatening than the NFL because of the overall poor financial health of the league. Even though the TV numbers look fantastic, the NBA's future seems much more uncertain than the NHL. With the NFL season over, expect to see a bit more attention paid to these stories in those other pro sports.