Ice Cold Interest: NHL, Stanley Cup Playoff Ratings Fail to Score

In mid-April I posted about how the Stanley Cup playoffs were primed to draw big TV viewer ratings based on the lack of activity among other sports and the bevy of talented players in big markets. It appears my prediction missed the net, at least in terms of the Cup Final.

Apparently the NHL didn’t account for Spongebob Squarepants when it scheduled its Cup Final games between the Kings and Devils. Deadspin found that on June 9 — Game 5 of the Final in which the Kings had an opportunity to win the Cup — more people watched an episode of Spongebob than the Stanley Cup. Ouch.

In addition, this year’s Cup Final had significantly less interest than last season’s Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks Final, down 29 percent in ratings. Overall, the Kings-Devils matchup was the least-watched Cup Final since 2007 when the Anaheim Ducks beat the Ottawa Senators.

That’s not to say the playoffs were a complete disaster, however. Games aired on NBC and NBC Sports were up 4 percent in ratings from last season, and the addition of CNBC to the lineup allowed every game to be seen in every market. But the Cup Final numbers undoubtedly cast a shadow on an otherwise entertaining postseason.

These numbers show why leagues internally hope for certain matchups. Last season the Bruins and Canucks was a good draw because it featured an Original Six team in a hockey market craving for its first Cup in 39 years (Bruins) against a Canadian team looking for its first Cup and featuring arguably the two best players in the sport (Canucks). Though this year’s Cup features two big markets in Los Angeles and New York/New Jersey, neither fan base is that big into hockey. L.A. is dominated by the NBA’s Lakers, and the Devils aren’t even the most popular team in their own market (that distinction goes to the Rangers).

Meanwhile, the NBA is thriving with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat in the Finals. Game One on Tuesday was the highest-rated Game One on ABC ever. With star players such as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, it’s an enticing series for sports fans to watch, especially for the anti-Heat crowd.

You can be sure NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is crossing his fingers that big market teams (Chicago, Philadelphia, New York) and star players (Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos) find themselves playing for the Cup.

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