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

Categories: 1-Featured,TV Ratings Reference,TV Sports Ratings & News

Written By

June 7th, 2012

After four 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 2.4 million for those four games keeps this year's SCF in the running to fall to the second lowest viewership since 1995.
NBC caught a bit of a ratings break with the Devils win in game 4. They'll get at least one more game on NBC broadcast, and each potentially clinching game typically has better viewership than the preceding one.
However, reaching an average viewership over 2006's 2.834 million is virtually impossible at this point (in round numbers it would require a seven game series with an average of 3.38 million viewers for the final three games).


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.

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.

Yes, this is just an updated version of the June 5 post.

  • curtisfiles

    Oh “F: me you New York biased chumps! If it was New York Rangers you would hear all about it, it’s this never ending hatred NY peeps have for Los Angeles or all of California for that matter.

  • Fed

    NHL and NBA? Seriously? The European Championships are underway and that is the second biggest sporting event of the year.

  • Barbarossa

    Can I just say how nice it is to have a Hockey ratings discussion without Torrid?

  • Joseph

    NBC received two pieces of bad luck over a span of twelve hours that may result in lower-than-wanted ratings for tomorrow’s (June 9th) Game 5:

    (1) The NBA playoff series between Miami and Boston has been forced to a seventh and deciding game tomorrow night. That will probably result in the Stanley Cup game getting half of the number of viewers it probably would otherwise have received, and,

    (2) I’ll Have Another’s withdrawal from the Belmont Stakes will reduce NBC’s viewing audience for that race by at least half and maybe as much as two-third. The network will probably heavily promote Game 5 during the horse racing broadcast, but those promos will reach far fewer people than what otherwise would have been the case.

    NBC’s best hope is that the Finals go to Game 6; if they do, Game 6 could attract nearly as many viewers as Game 1, 2, and 5 combined.

  • jessica

    Gary, i watched the end of game 7 last year because i was expecting riots. Vancouver fans are very bitter and aggressive when their teams lose the big games. I still can’t understand why the Vancouver Police weren’t anticipating it like i was. You just knew it was going to erupt when the fans started chanting “GO HOME NOW” in the final minutes of the game.

    NBC’s 2nd-half of the season Saturday afternoon regional hockey coverage isn’t exactly as comprehensive as the multi-network football coverage. Football on NBC is in prime time while hockey is banished to the noone-watches early Saturday afternoon. Hockey has been a primetime staple in Canada for 81 years on radio and television. In the US the sports that have that sort of background are baseball and football.

    Pick any year and even with 2 big-market American teams in the finals you could probably find quite a few Saturday baseball games on FOX which had a larger audience.

    Extending the playoffs into June always seemed a bad idea to me. The numbers this year show just how bad an idea that is. Two coastal teams with small television audiences and not much national appeal playing a winter sport when most people would rather go to the beach. Blame Bettman!

    In case anyone is wondering about the population numbers:
    LA metropolitan area population: 12,828,837 (2010)
    NYC metropolitan area population: 22,085,649 (2010)
    Total metropolitan areas population: 34,914,486 (2010)
    US population: 313,692,000 (2012 est.)
    Canada population: 33,476,688 (2011)

    And a little humour:
    the monarchist Kings versus the puritanically hated Devils. Sounds like it should be the subject of the House Un-American Activities Committee. :)

    GO SENS!

  • Nadine

    @Barbarossa — no diss meant !

  • Nadine

    Yup. There’s zero-zilch-nada Devils fans in NY. Oh there’s that guy Sal in Bensonhurst who moved there last year from Newark, I guess…. Fact of the matter is, most people in Newark are Rangers fans too. It’s like the Yankees having a minor-league team in Staten Island — most Statenites, as ever, are still Mets fans.

  • Barbarossa

    @Nadine: None Taken. Just pointing out that even in America having a Canadian team, especially one like Vancouver probably boosts viewers. I think the 04,06,07 numbers while still low are a bit high because of ex-pats watching. If The Habs or god forbid the Leafs, make it back to the Cup Finals I’d predict even NBCs numbers would rocket

  • Ben

    I agree with Joseph;
    It’s really bad news for NBC and horse racing fans everywhere. With I’ll Have Another scratched from the Belmont Stakes, the next headline could be: “What if they had a Triple Crown Finale and nobody watched?”
    Not many people are going to view a race, where the winner of Kentucky Derby and Preakness is not going to run. The horse is only going to walk in the prerace parade. It will probably get a standing ovation from the crowd for doing better than most people expected of it.

    Oh well, at least NBC still has the Olympics and Monday Night Football to bring in the viewers.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “The US numbers presented here are demo 18-49… “

    No they are not.

    The numbers in this post are average (total) viewership, as noted.

  • Cath

    Why, when the temperatures are nearing 90 in most parts of the country is there still hockey? I always thought of it as a winter sport.


    Why are there still basketball playoffs? I know they had a shortened season but this playoff cycle seems to be going on forever. We are a few weeks shy of the MLB All-Star Game and football is gearing up. Too much overlap. Way too much sports overlap.

  • Joseph

    Although NBC may not like it, the CBC hopes that someday soon, the Toronto Maple Leafs make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

    With one-fourth of Canada’s total population living within 75 miles of the CN Tower, a Finals with the Leafs would probably average 7 million viewers for the CBC.

    Were the Finals with the Leafs to go to a seventh game, the finale would probably become the most-watched TV program in Canadian history. At least half of Canada’s population (about 15-16 million out of 30-31 million total people) would probably be tuned-in, with perhaps four out of five people living within a 75-mile radius of Toronto tuned-in.

    For NBC, it would be a disaster, although a Finals with the Leafs might do somewhat well in upstate New York (prior to the Buffalo Sabres coming into the league in 1970, upstate New York was considered “Leafs Country”), but it would not boost network numbers (and in fact, many Leafs fans in upstate New York with access to the CBC would probably tune-in CBC instead of NBC).

  • groove365


    European championship of what?
    I assume you mean Soccer (non US Football) but that gets very little attention or coverage here in the US (outside of World Cup time) and rates about the same as beach volleyball.

  • Jon

    I wonder if the games will be watched more now that the series got kind of interesting?

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “Why, when the temperatures are nearing 90 in most parts of the country is there still hockey? I always thought of it as a winter sport.


    Why are there still basketball playoffs? I know they had a shortened season but this playoff cycle seems to be going on forever. We are a few weeks shy of the MLB All-Star Game and football is gearing up. Too much overlap. Way too much sports overlap.”

    Since the hockey and basketball playoffs/finals are at effectively the same time every year (some changes this year to the NBA schedule), do you wonder about this every year? Or have you suddenly just noticed the scheduling?

    Strange, in either case.

  • KL

    I don’t particularly care about LA or NJ. It just doesn’t interest me at all, and there’s no denying a LA-NY match up would have generated a huge amount of interest in the general population. Hockey isn’t the most popular sport in LA and I’m not even joking when I say I think there are more Rangers fans than Devils fans in NJ.

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