The NHL's ratings for the Stanley Cup Final are continuing to suffer after an NHL playoff season that started out so well for the league. Game One was down by 25%. Game Two on Saturday was on NBC, and drew just a 1.7 rating and 2.9 million viewers, down 23% from last year. Game Three on Monday was down 37% from last year, and an insane 52% from 2010, and was the lowest rated Cup Final game since Game Three of 2007's Senators-Ducks, which aired on NBC. And now, we have last night's Game Four, which drew a 1.7 overnight rating, down 13% from Game Four of Bruins-Canucks last year.
This isn't good news for the NHL, but you don't need to be a genius to realize that. Just by looking at the massive percentage decreases from last year's fantastic Bruins-Canucks matchup, you can tell that this series isn't captivating the country like that series did. What's to blame for this? There are a few possible factors...
One is the lack of a traditional/big hockey market in the Final. Los Angeles has never been known as a hockey town despite the size of the city. There are so many things to focus on in LA aside from the Kings in the spring, namely the Lakers, Clippers, and Dodgers. As for the New Jersey market, it's not a big one by any stretch. Even though the NHL can hope otherwise, the Devils can't tap into the lucrative New York City market in the way they want. And, in spite of their recent success over the last decade and a half, they've never captured the imagination of more casual fans. The NHL isn't the NFL, so bigger, more established hockey markets will have a tangible effect on ratings. When Boston, Philly, and Chicago are involved, the numbers are good. When it's Newark and Los Angeles, the numbers will struggle.
There's also a lack of starpower in this series. The Devils had two players in the top 20 for points in the league (Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias) and the Kings had one (Anze Kopitar), but none of those three are trumpeted as a face of the league type player like Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, or even a player like Claude Giroux. While both teams have great goalies (the legendary Martin Brodeur and the young and upcoming Jonathan Quick), Brodeur has seemingly always been overlooked while Quick isn't a big name in the hockey lexicon, despite being a young, dominant American. Also keep in mind that this is a #8 seed taking on a #6 seed, so it's not like these two teams have been featured prominently as contenders throughout the year.
The actual hockey hasn't been bad this series, with the first two games going to overtime and Game Four being a one goal game until the final 20 seconds, when Kovalchuk scored an empty-netter to ice it for the Devils. But, the potential of a sweep and many likely considering the series "over" hurt Game Four last night. The NHL has also been hurt by a pair of fantastic conference finals in the NBA, featuring stars like Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Dwayne Wade.
Coming off the heels of a relatively highly rated postseason and a nice run of good ratings numbers, the falling Stanley Cup ratings this year shouldn't be too much of a surprise, especially considering these factors and the scheduling. Last year, the NHL didn't have to compete with the NBA during the two congruent championship series alternating nights. However, with the NBA lockout pushing back the season, the NHL now has to compete with an NBA Conference Finals game every night. Don't underestimate that factor in these numbers.
The NHL's problems could be even more compounded for Game Five on Saturday, which is going to be on NBC at 8 PM. If the Miami Heat beat the Boston Celtics tonight, it will force a Game Seven in the Eastern Conference Finals... which will take place at 8:30 PM on Saturday on ESPN. Combine that with FOX primetime baseball with a Yankees-Mets matchup as the main draw (as well as the Dodgers traveling to Seattle to take on the Mariners), and you have the makings of a potential meltdown for the NHL on Saturday.
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