Earlier this postseason, NHL ratings were trending up while NBA ratings were trending down. As the playoffs move on, those trends are being reversed. The NHL experienced mostly down ratings during the Conference Finals over the past two weeks, while the NBA's weekend schedule of games were mostly up in the ratings.
First, we'll start with the NHL. Out of the 11 Conference Final games, only four were up. Three of those four games happened in the Western Conference matchup between the Kings and Coyotes, and ratings were likely up due to the presence of the Vancouver Canucks in the final last year, depriving an American market of a team to root for. Game 5 between the Kings and Coyotes featured the highest gain of any Conference Final this year, shooting up 40% from last year's Canucks-Sharks Game 5. The only two Kings-Coyotes games that were down overall were Game 2 (down 1% from last year), and Game 4 (down 5%). Game 4 was the lone game of the series to be aired on NBC. Game 1 was up 10% from last year, while game three was up 16%.
The Devils-Rangers series went six games, and even with the New York market, all but one game was down from last year's Bruins-Lightning series, including Game 4, which was down a whopping 34%. Games 1 & 2 of the series were down 17 and 14 percent respectively, while Game 3 was the one game of the series that was up from last year - 25%, airing on NBC. Games 5 and 6 were down 5 and 6 percent each. Now, while the percentages on the Devils-Rangers series were down, the three most viewed telecasts of the Conference Finals happened in that series. Meanwhile, the only two games to not draw a million viewers were in the Kings-Coyotes series (Games 2/3).
Now, what does this really mean for the NHL? What I'm getting from these ratings is that while the presence of Canadian hockey teams deep in the Finals will do a lot for the NHL north of the border, it doesn't do a lot for the league here in America. The Coyotes are a franchise that has no history in the league, and no solid foothold on a fanbase, yet their series with the Kings was up from last year's Western Conference Finals. On another aside, the hockey market in LA seems to be really taking off, and a Kings Stanley Cup win would probably do a lot to help the league in one of the largest markets in the country. With the Lakers and Clippers out of the playoffs, LA is ripe for the taking by the Kings.
Next up, NBA ratings, the end of the Conference Semifinals, and the beginning of the Conference Finals. Going back to Saturday, Game 7 between the 76ers and Celtics was up 12% from Memphis-Oklahoma City last year, likely due to the overall larger sizes of the markets involved this year. Sure enough, the small market bug hit the Thunder again in Game 1 against the Spurs on Sunday, which was up against a comparable game against the star-laden Heat and the large market Bulls. Sunday's game drew a 5.7 overnight, and was down 23% from last year's Bulls-Heat game. And one more note about the Heat: Monday's game one versus the Celtics drew a 6.6 overnight, and was up 25% from game one of Oklahoma City/Dallas from last year. Like them or not, the Heat are a huge draw for the league. And despite how exciting the Thunder may be, they don't appear to be a very good ratings draw nationally over the last two seasons.
These trends overall aren't too surprising though. The NHL lost their biggest headliners and markets while the NBA field has lost all the non-contenders and still possess the ratings juggernaut that is the Miami Heat.
[h/t: Sports Media Watch, USA Today]