What If They Held An NHL Stanley Cup Final And Nobody Watched?

Categories: TV Ratings Reference,TV Sports Ratings & News

Written By

June 5th, 2012

After three games, this year's Stanley Cup Final between the Los Angeles Kings and the New Jersey Devils is in danger of having the second lowest TV viewership average since at least 1995 (perhaps earlier, I lack the data). Our polled readers turned out to have been wildly optimistic.

The ballpark average of 2.5 million for those three games, and likely less than that average for game four on NBCSN on Wednesday, would likely make a four game sweep fall to the second lowest viewership since 1995.


What happened?
  • Because of the strike compressed NBA season, Stanley Cup Final matches have gone head to head with NBA Conference Finals games which would not be the case during a normal NBA season.
  • While LA and NY are the two largest US TV markets, neither team generates enthusiasm among a significant portion of those large markets, as opposed to how Boston, Chicago, Detroit or Pittsburgh would.
A four game sweep by LA on Wednesday night would certainly make Kings fans happy, but not NBCU or the NHL (or Devils fans, of course).

NHL Stanley Cup Finals TV Ratings, 1995-2011

Year Net Games Household Rating Household Share Average Households (million) Average Viewers (million) Teams
2011 NBC/VS** 7 2.7 5  4.6 Boston v. Vancouver
2010 NBC/VS** 6 3.4 6 Chicago v. Philadelphia
2009 NBC/VS** 7 3.1 6 Pittsburgh v. Detroit
2008 NBC/VS 6 2.6 5 2.929 4.479 Pittsburgh vs. Detroit
2007 NBC/VS 5 1.2 2 1.307 1.764 Ottawa vs. Anaheim
2006 NBC/OLN** 7 1.8 3 1.994 2.834 Carolina vs,Edmonton
2005 NHL Season Cancelled
2004 *ABC/ESPN 7 2.2 4 2.366 3.286 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Calgary Flames
2003 *ABC/ESPN 7 2.4 4 2.557 3.627 New Jersey Devils vs. Anaheim Ducks
2002 ABC 3 3.6 7 3.815 5.768 Detroit Red Wings vs. Carolina Hurricanes
2001 ABC 5 3.3 6 3.371 5.058 Colorado Avalanche vs. New Jersey Devils
2000 ABC 4 3.7 8 3.734 5.511 New Jersey Devils vs. Dallas Stars
1999 FOX 3 3.4 6 3.379 4.873 Dallas Stars vs. Buffalo Sabres
1998 FOX 1 3.3 6 3.230 4.830 Detroit Red Wings vs. Washington Capitals
1997 FOX 1 4.0 8 3.930 6.370 Detroit Red Wings vs. Philadelphia Flyers
1996 FOX 2 3.6 7 3.430 5.090 Colorado Avalanche vs. Florida Panthers
1995 FOX 2 3.4 8 3.254 5.210 New Jersey Devils vs. Detroit Red Wings

*ABC had 5 telecasts & ESPN had 2 telecasts so this is the combined average of both networks.

**2006 NBC had 5 telecasts & OLN had 2 telecasts so this is the combined average of both networks. 2009 NBC had 5 games, Versus had 2 games. 2010 NBC had 4 games, Versus had 2 games. 2011 NBC had 5 games, Versus had 2 games.

Data for 2006-11 is Live+SD, all previous years is Live viewing.

I know that average viewership and household ratings are meaningless to the business of NBC and NBCSN, but like most historical data that's all we've got.

Unfortunately, while the 2009 and 2010 Stanley Cup Final household ratings were well above those for any year since 2002, I was unable to find average viewership for the SCF as a whole for those years. I could only find the NBC telecast viewership averages (which were 6.1 million for 4 games in 2010, and 5.6 million for 5 games in 2009).

Nielsen TV Ratings Data: ©2012 Nielsen Media Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

  • Nick

    No one watches the Devils in their own building so why would they have any national appeal? Serves them right for beating my Rangers. You still need the original 6 to draw viewers.

  • The Watcher

    As a long-time fan I can’t help noticing that playoff hockey this year has been terribly boring compared to the regular season, which is just the opposite of what should happen. The problem is the way the league handles officiating.

    The most talented players (other than goalies) aren’t allowed to play their game as interference, holding and many other penalties simply aren’t called in the playoffs. It’s weird to see a “major” sport play the whole season under one set of rules, where skill and speed are rewarded, and then let the grabbers, holders and thugs take over the games in the playoffs.

    Other that Quick (their goalie) the main thing the Kings have in their favor is size. When only the biggest players get room to move it makes for boring hockey.

  • Brody

    Looks like they need to move the NBA from cable to a real network and move NHL to cable. What a waste of airtime if no one is watching.

  • Nate Stegall

    @Brody I can see it happening. NHL will turn into Miss America. No one will want to air it except ESPN 3 or randomly on CMT or something. Hah.

  • Kipper

    I think something is drastically wrong with the Nielsen system. I find it hard to believe that Los Angeles, some of California, New Jersey, some of New York, and other parts of the US are watching this series, yet they only had 2.5 million viewers for Game 2? I don’t think so, Tim.

  • BT


    The Stanley Cup finals have been mostly played in June since the 1992-1993 season. Starting with that season, only 23 games in the finals (out of 19 seasons) have been played in May. Out of those, only 2008 could have been done before June if it had only gone to 4 games. Most years have had 1 or 2 games in May, so this year is no different.

    @Mark Phillips:

    Should LA really be on that list? There are only 6 teams in the league that have been around longer. I think they’ve proven themselves as a stable market.

  • Mark Phillips

    You’re right, BT….I meant Anaheim. And add Carolina and Nashville to my list. Although both those franchses have won a lot of games, even winning a Stanley Cup in Carolina, both have failed to generate much fan support.

  • Alex2

    It’s never made sense to me why Los Angeles – which if it ever saw actual snow would probably be seen as a sign of the apocalypse – even has an NHL team. Ditto Phoenix, Anaheim and other places where “winter” isn’t in the dictionary. All that said, I think the comment about the playoffs lasting too long is the key. I honestly thought the Stanley Cup was wrapped up back in May – it actually caught me by surprise to find out it’s still dragging on in June. And I live in an NHL city. A shorter season that doesn’t overlap baseball (and at times threatens to overlap football) would be better. But it’s hard to do that when they keep adding teams.

  • BT

    @Mark Phillips: Nashville is doing reasonably well, and has better attendance than New Jersey does, and a number of other teams not on your list. Everything I’ve heard and read about the area says hockey is doing quite well there, though the perception still exists outside of Nashville that it’s not.

    @Alex2: We still saw hockey in June with 22 teams, and it went further into June with 24 teams than it does now with 30 teams. Adding teams is not the reason.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “I think something is drastically wrong with the Nielsen system. I find it hard to believe that Los Angeles, some of California, New Jersey, some of New York, and other parts of the US are watching this series, yet they only had 2.5 million viewers for Game 2? I don’t think so, Tim.”

    I love the smell of Nielsen conspiracy in the morning. Sadly, this time it just smells like denial instead of pageviews. ;)

  • Kipper

    @Bill Gorman, I’m in Canada, faithfully watching it on CBC, it just boggles my mind that nobody is watching, especially in the cities that are hosting the Final

  • Nate

    @Kipper. A majority of U.S. really doesn’t care about hockey…like Soccer. NBA playoffs are more important this time of year, and American Football is most popular.

  • Chris

    As a hockey fan I would love to watch every game of the cup, but having to listen to Mike ” doc” Emrick announce the playoffs has been torture. He’s terrible and he’s the reason I’m not watching. His nonsensical rants and inside jokes that make no sense to anyone besides the idiot next to him, are rediculous! The NHL needs to cut all ties with NBC and Emrick and find some one with a littletalent andmaybe there ratings will improve!

  • Joseph

    How are the local ratings in Los Angeles??

    They must be weak, but then again, while the games are underway, millions of Southern Californians are driving home and unable to watch. Maybe a 6:15 P.M. PDT/9:15 P.M. EDT start would help ratings in L.A., but fans on the East Coast would complain, NBC stations on the East Coast would complain (because it would push back late local news by an hour), Jay Leno would complain (since he might be pre-empted and Jimmy Fallon might follow the local news that follows the games or at best, be pushed back about an hour), Jimmy Fallon could complain (if both Jay Leno and Fallon’s shows air, but an hour later than usual); and up north of the border, the CBC would really complain since a 9:15 P.M. EDT start is 10:15 P.M. in the Maritimes and 10:45 P.M. in Newfoundland.

    (On the other hand, I suspect whoever is the radio flagship of the Los Angeles Kings is enjoying record afternoon-drive numbers considering the 5:15 P.M. PDT start times)

    What might also help would be for NBC to carry the entire Finals. I think one major problem is that viewers simply don’t know what channel to tune-in.

  • Cody


    It has nothing to do with people not knowing what channel to tune-in to. Game 1 and 2 were both on NBC and both had terrible numbers. The early start time might be a factor for the LA market, but it shouldn’t be a major factor. I think it is more that LA isn’t a big hockey market.

  • Chudbeagle

    Mark Phillips:
    Learn your facts-Nashville draws well and Carolina sells out almost every game not on weeknights. Not every person can plunk down $100 on meaningless regular season games every night.
    Ooooohhhh-it’s Edmonton-Carolina on a 35 degree Wednesday night in January-sign me up for $100 plus food and parking!
    As per the ratings-while NJ-LA has little appeal, I can assure you that every bar in America has these games on and those ratings will never be accounted for.

  • bk8718

    I really think this is on the NHL.
    The league only really promotes seven teams: the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, Bruins, Capitals, Red Wings and Blackhawks. Yes, those are the seven franchises that rate the best (by a wide margin). And the NHL has gotten tremendously lucky in recent years; seven of the last eight Stanley Cup finalists have come from that list. But they run the risk that if they don’t have any of those seven, no one is going to care.
    And there’s ways to do it. Start pairing big franchises with secondary franchises, and make an effort to promote these games. I bet you could get a big audience for Blackhawks/Blues or Bruins/Sabres or Penguins/Lightning if you promote it properly. Or do a double header. Start with a major game (Flyers/Rangers, say) and follow it with a West Coast game (Kings/Sharks, for example). Even if they only watch ten minutes, that’s ten minutes that they would never have watched before.
    The fact is, there is no way that a Stanley Cup Final which features a team based in LA-including arguably the best goalie in the game (who also happens to be American-born), a 22-year-old superstar defenseman, and former top line players from the Pens and Flyers, as well as a team based in NY-including arguably the best goalie in history, one of the stars of the 2010 American Olympic team, and a former goal-scoring champ, should rate this badly. No way.

  • TatiG

    it’s Xenophobia. What the hell is Kopitar? Phaneuf? 1/2 of the LA team are Canadians… May be the NHL should look into getting Americans to play the game?

  • Hattie

    Definitely not surprised that the ratings are low this year. LA barely has the fan base to attract anyone who isn’t in the arena and with NJ doing so poorly, I’d bet a bunch of NJ fans quit after the first or second game. It’s no surprise that larger market teams would bring in better numbers. I’d also be interested in how Canadian numbers stack up against the US numbers, although since there’s no Canadian team in the finals I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re low as well.

  • CJ

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the only people watching were Kings fans, Devils fans, and the diehards. Taking a fledgling sports network and anchoring it to the fourth most popular sport in America isn’t beneficial to either. If NBCSN wanted to raise their profile, they should have made a deal with a more popular sport. And as much as it pains me to say it, if the NHL wanted to raise their profile, they should have signed with ESPN.

    As long as the majority of sports fans look to SportsCenter and ESPN.com for their sporting news, the NHL is screwed. The Stanley Cup Finals takes a backseat to the NBA Conference Finals every night; since the NHL doesn’t make ESPN a dime, they’re going to cover it as a second-rate sport behind the NBA, MLB, and NFL – all sports leagues that make them money since they’re on ABC family of networks.

    Bettman may have gotten the biggest TV contract from NBC to keep the NHL there but he’s left millions more on the table by not signing with ABC. ABC/ESPN would have done much more than NBC Universal has to raise awareness of the product.

    The puff pieces on SportsCenter that involve NBA, MLB, or NFL players are largely void of any real substance but they create stars in the eyes of casual fans. The battle between these two teams during the offseason a few years ago over Kovalchuk could have been played up to hype the series (and ESPN would have exploited that to create a sense of bad blood since they’re the masters of sports hyperbole). The end result would have made Kovalchuk an individual star and it would give the series an underlying “hate” factor that would have drawn in casual fans.

    There are many easy ways to increase ratings and interest for both entities (NBCSN and the NHL) but by tying themselves together, NBCSN and the NHL are not in any position to do so and probably never will be unless they part.

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