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Broadcast TV, Once Again Friend to the NHL

Categories: ',TV Business

Written By

January 2nd, 2008

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Winter Classic Reportedly Pulls 2.6 HH rating

The other day I wrote something up on why I thought in the future the networks would befriend the National Hockey League and I sent it to business mogul and owner of the NHL's Washington Capitals, Ted Leonsis and asked him if it was completely insane.  I got the Ted "not completely insane" seal of approval.   I'd forgotten all about it until New Year's Day when I was channel surfing and became completely mesmerized with The Winter Classic - a marketing ploy by the NHL where a game was played outside.  They've done this before in Canada, but this was the first time a game had been played outdoors in the US.The game, between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres was played outdoors in Ralph Wilson stadium in Buffalo.  The sights and sounds of the game played outdoors in wintry conditions were captivating and young star and fan favorite Sidney Crosby scoring the winning goal in a shootout had to be more than the NHL could have asked for. 

I'd forgotten about that until I saw that it pulled a 2.6 rating in the overnights according to the Mail and Globe (hey, I have no qualms going to Canada for my USA Nielsen audience ratings data! Interestingly, as of this writing they did not have the ratings data for Canada...).  A 2.6!  WOW.

No, seriously.  WOW.  I know you're thinking, "Hey! Those are Gossip Girl style numbers and nowhere near as good as Journeyman's and you bash Gossip Girl and Journeyman all the time! What's up being thrilled with a 2.6?!?"

For the record, I do not bash Gossip Girl and Journeyman all the time (c'mon, both shows have hot actresses) but seriously I think the NHL will be excited and delighted with the 2.6.  Last year's Stanley Cup Finals only averaged a 1.2.   The New Year's Day  Winter Classic hockey game aired during the daytime, against Bowl Day football on other channels.  If nothing else it shows you can get a few million people to watch hockey on a winter's holiday (which continues to beg the question: why do they hold the Stanley Cup in JUNE).

ESPN's Scott Burnside argues that the NHL shouldn't make a regular fixture of the outdoors Winter Classic, but with a 2.6, it's all but a certainty that we'll see a 2009 installment.

Here's the e-mail I sent Ted:

I've been thinking about this some...do you think it's out in left field?

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Will Broadcast TV Be a Friend to the NHL?

Over six months ago, when TVbytheNumbers was still just a germ of an idea, I got into a heated e-mail exchange with Internet mogul and Washington Capitals ownerTed Leonsis over just how shockingly bad the Nielsen ratings for the Stanley Cup finals were. You look at the numbers and the intuitive response is that the National Hockey League is in baaaad shape.  The numbers do stink, however, when you contrast them with what's going on with the other leagues for the most part, the viewing trend is the same for the NHL as it is for the NBA and MLB.

For all The Talk about steroids, Major League Baseball has done nothing but make money the last ten years to the point where it's almost making as much as the NFL.  Granted, the NFL has a regular season of 16 games and MLB has a regular season of 162 games, but still, MLB is doing well despite the steroids controversy and the TV ratings trend of 30 years.

Ted planted an idea in my head and the WGA strike has only accelerated the growth of that idea: in the future major live sporting events will be even more valuable than they are today.  How valuable?  I'm guessing the next time around, the NFL will double its asking price for TV licensing rights - and get it.  I'm not sure that MLB can command double, but between national and local licensing, it will still be more.  Same for the NBA and NHL with their 82 game regular seasons.

I'm not sure the time is right just yet, but at some point whether it's now or five years from now, somebody, whether it's the Mouse or our pal Jeff Zucker at NBC, or that rascal Les Moonves, or maybe even Rupert Mordoch and Fox, somebody is going to do a long-term deal with the NHL.   I think this because relatively speaking someone could do a very long-term deal with the NHL at a huge discount compared to other leagues. 

Do I think the NHL can become the NFL or MLB?  No.  But right now more people by far watch WWE Raw on USA Network for 2 hours every Monday night than watched the NHL finals last year.  Mark Cuban is no dummy and investing in an MMA league just seems to make sense.  There may not be a lot of money in it now, but five years from now who knows?

I rule out hardly anything other than soccer.  I rule soccer out for this reason: we just don't like it in the United States. We never have and we probably never will.  We all play it growing up, but no matter - we don't like to watch it as a spectator sport.  Oh sure, every now and then we can get worked up for the World Cup or even the star power of Beckham,  but otherwise we just don't care. 

The primary reason I think the value of professional sports goes up, and keeps going up with the tv networks is because people, even people with DVRs tend to watch sporting events live as they happen.  More DVRs may equal less viewing of the advertisements but certainly the networks will combat this with more programming that people would tend to watch live (which definitely includes unscripted reality and game shows). Less people fast-forwarding through commercials = more people watching commercials and if the networks can stave off decreases to commercial viewership via programming, I can't imagine any scenario where they wouldn't. 

The sports leagues don't really have to do anything.  While Nielsen's panel may include only 21% DVR homes, it's big enough to determine that the behavior pattern is clearly this, for all practical purposes people don't watch sports time-shifted through their DVRs.  Oh sure, some people do it, it may even be tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands.  Numerically the number isn't very large, statistically, it's insignificant.  There's little to suggest that this behavior is in the process of changing. 

If I were one of the networks, I'd think about a deal with the NHL?  Why?  Precisely because it has been beaten down over the last few years.  I'm sure the owners are as greedy as any other league, but they're perhaps a bit more humble. The NBA and MLB may be too greedy, but I could see the NHL doing some long-term (10 or more years) deal for a half-billion or more with a network, and I can see the owners thinking about it.   It becomes in the network's interest to promote The League and its games, and if you buy into the premise that live programming becomes more and more valuable, it may make a lot of sense for a network too, and relative to other leagues, the NHL might be a bargain.

Will the networks  look back on the current pricing for sports licensing with wistful "ah, the good old days" thinking?

 
  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    I'm sure we'll see it again too. Am just watching PTI on ESPN and they want to do it every Sunday.

    I've got to believe that, in general, live events like sports will gain viewing market share over other forms of televised entertainment over the coming years.

    The NHL's objective [and other sports] should be to capture as much of that live audience advantage as possible.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    I hope they don't do this more than once a year, but I like the idea of making it an annual event. Then again they also said on PTI it was the most watched regular season NHL game in TEN YEARS!

    I like Dallas Morning News writer Tim Cowlishaw's idea to do it annually, but not on New Years. Cowlishaw suggests doing it the Sunday before the Super Bowl when there's not as much competition.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    I’m sure we’ll see it again too. Am just watching PTI on ESPN and they want to do it every Sunday.

    I’ve got to believe that, in general, live events like sports will gain viewing market share over other forms of televised entertainment over the coming years.

    The NHL’s objective [and other sports] should be to capture as much of that live audience advantage as possible.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    I hope they don’t do this more than once a year, but I like the idea of making it an annual event. Then again they also said on PTI it was the most watched regular season NHL game in TEN YEARS!

    I like Dallas Morning News writer Tim Cowlishaw’s idea to do it annually, but not on New Years. Cowlishaw suggests doing it the Sunday before the Super Bowl when there’s not as much competition.

  • Technique

    I believe there was talk a year or two ago to have the outdoor NHL game take place at Yankee Stadium. I don't know if it'll be too late to take place in the old Stadium or the new Stadium in 2009 but it ever does happen, that rating may be good as well, especially if the Rangers, Devils and Isles are all good teams.

    I suggest an outdoor game once or twice every month. Every Sunday might lessen the novelty. But how ever the NHL wants to do it, at least it's getting folks to talk about hockey in a positive light again!

    The top 10 markets of this game, based on household rating, were: (#1) Buffalo, N.Y., 38.2/58, (#2) Pittsburgh 17.7/30, (#3) Minneapolis 5.1/11, (#4) Denver 3.7/7, (#5 tie) Providence, R.I., 3.5/7, (#5 tie) Las Vegas 3.5/6, (#7) St. Louis 3.3/5, (#8) Boston 3.2/6, (#9) Sacramento 2.9/6, (#10 tie) Richmond, Va., 2.8/5, (#10 tie) Hartford, Conn., 2.8/5

    If any actual viewer numbers, please post. Thanks!

  • Technique

    I believe there was talk a year or two ago to have the outdoor NHL game take place at Yankee Stadium. I don’t know if it’ll be too late to take place in the old Stadium or the new Stadium in 2009 but it ever does happen, that rating may be good as well, especially if the Rangers, Devils and Isles are all good teams.

    I suggest an outdoor game once or twice every month. Every Sunday might lessen the novelty. But how ever the NHL wants to do it, at least it’s getting folks to talk about hockey in a positive light again!

    The top 10 markets of this game, based on household rating, were: (#1) Buffalo, N.Y., 38.2/58, (#2) Pittsburgh 17.7/30, (#3) Minneapolis 5.1/11, (#4) Denver 3.7/7, (#5 tie) Providence, R.I., 3.5/7, (#5 tie) Las Vegas 3.5/6, (#7) St. Louis 3.3/5, (#8) Boston 3.2/6, (#9) Sacramento 2.9/6, (#10 tie) Richmond, Va., 2.8/5, (#10 tie) Hartford, Conn., 2.8/5

    If any actual viewer numbers, please post. Thanks!

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    Technique, hopefully sometime late next week we'll get some viewer numbers with the sports data – if I see anything before that I'll post it here. WOW at the numbers in the Buffalo market…

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    Technique, hopefully sometime late next week we’ll get some viewer numbers with the sports data – if I see anything before that I’ll post it here. WOW at the numbers in the Buffalo market…

  • Carl LaFong

    Americans (the United States variety of Americans)don't watch sports with goaltenders. xcept for an occassional one shot phenomenon or the Olympics, they never will.

  • Carl LaFong

    Americans (the United States variety of Americans)don’t watch sports with goaltenders. xcept for an occassional one shot phenomenon or the Olympics, they never will.

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