On April 19, The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell reported Canadian television ratings for the opening week of the 2016 NHL playoffs were down a “shocking” 61 percent compared to the same time a year ago.
As per Numeris, the playoffs didn’t even appear among the top-30 show in Canada during that week. The ratings tumble was blamed upon the absence of any of the seven Canadian teams in the 2016 postseason. That trend continued the following week (April 18-24).
During the week of April 25 to May 1, the NHL playoffs finally made the list. Game 7 of the opening-round series between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues and the start of the second round (which included the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Washington Capitals) cracked the top-30. However, that ratings rebound didn’t last long. For the week of May 2-8, the playoffs once again failed to make the cut.
The lack of Canadian teams certainly account for the ratings tumble in the Great White North. So, too, does the absence of the Boston Bruins, who are also quite popular among Canadian fans. The early playoff elimination of other Original Six franchises – Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers – also doesn’t help. The St. Louis Blues efforts to curry favor with Canadian hockey fans during the playoffs by citing the 18 Canadians on their roster doesn’t seem to be working.
It’s not just in Canada where TV ratings for the NHL playoffs are sluggish. In the United States, they’re overshadowed by the NBA postseason. Ratings for last Wednesday’s (May 18) conference final tilt between the Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning (0.6) not only finished well below that night’s NBA game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors (3.0), but were also below TNT’s NBA pre-game show (0.7).
According to Anthony Riccobono of International Business Times, the NHL Conference Finals hasn’t attracted much attention among American viewers. Ratings for Game 2 of the Western Conference Final between the Blues and San Jose Sharks were down 34 percent compared to last year, making it the least-watched Conference Final game since 2014. Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final, meanwhile, saw ratings drop eight percent compared to the same game a year ago between the Lightning and New York Rangers.
Riccobono cites the early elimination of big-market teams such as the Blackhawks, Rangers and Los Angeles Kings for the ratings decline. He believes the best the NHL can hope for is a Stanley Cup Final featuring the Penguins (who have the best local ratings among the NHL’s American-based franchises) and the San Jose Sharks. The latter sits in America’s sixth-best TV market, but Riccobono believes they could be overshadowed by the NBA’s Warriors dominating most of the Bay Area coverage.
It could’ve been worse for the league. This year’s Stanley Cup Final could’ve featured the Nashville Predators against the Florida Panthers. That’s not meant to be a slight against either club or their fans. It’s simply acknowledging what ratings could’ve been if two of the playoffs lowest-viewed clubs reached the Cup Final.
There’s really nothing the NHL can do to salvage the ratings for the 2016 playoffs. To avoid another postseason of declining TV numbers, the league brain trust will have to hope for more Canadian teams and big market (preferably Original Six) American clubs reach the 2017 playoffs. If any of them can go on a deep playoff run, even better.