Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Does hockey have a non existent profile in the USA?

While they prepare to do battle for Lord Stanley’s Mug tonight in Raleigh, one simple question remains, outside of Canada is anybody really paying attention to hockey in the second week of June?

If ancillary evidence is to be believed, the viewership for the Stanley Cup finals is not going to be breaking any television ratings for the foreseeable future. On CKNW’s Bill Good Show today (11:30-Noon hour block) Good and author Bruce Dowbiggin discussed the state of the NHL below the 49th parallel and a less than favourable impression was painted by the two.

Is it possibly true that a recent televised rain out of a Baseball game garnered higher ratings than the duel between the Oilers and the Hurricanes? Has hockey been reduced to a cult status in the US as many hockey writers seem to think? Those suggestions were passed along on the show today and if true, then Gary Bettman has a pretty steep hill ahead of him in trying to get the NHL back to prominence in the USA.

Even in Canada, the televised ratings for the playoffs are down 15% from the last time we saw a Stanley Cup match, the Flames-Lightning match up of 2004. Two teams far from the bright lights of the biggest of American cities in the league, much like this years match up a contest of hinterland dwellers, who don’t seem to be attracting much interest from the larger American centres.

Good and Dowbiggin talked about the OLN experiment, which saw the NHL leave it’s place with ESPN to strike out with the lesser profile of OLN, which has resulted in rather meager ratings for most of the season and almost invisible presence as the money days of the Stanley Cup came along. The deal with NBC has been an interesting experiment as well, as it was basically a purchase of television time, which seems t be filled mainly with promo announcements for NFL Sunday night football coming this fall on NBC!

As for Bettman, he's not overly concerned it seems over the state of attention his game is receiving these days, feeling that eventually the American market will come around. He however may wish to make note of the reaction from the fans perspective as recounted in the Sports Central site.

While television dominated the discussion, there were some positive signs most of them above the 49th line though, Canadians have returned to the rinks in large numbers after the lock out year, as most cities sold out their rinks night in and night out. The same could not be said for their American cousins, who frequently played to less than capacity crowds sometimes in some rather important markets such as Chicago and the New York, New Jersey area. Cities such as Anaheim have been discovering an interesting problem as well, they have a core group of fans who come to the games, but that is not translating into television numbers for their franchise which won’t do much for the way of growth in the years to come.

The other good news for the NHL was the strengthening Canadian dollar, which has roared back to life in the last half year or so, making a strong leap towards the US dollar, making costs less and profit potential higher for the Canadian teams. The Canadian teams can look forward to better revenue streams with a stronger dollar, though Gary Bettman can hardly take any credit for the bulking up of the loonie.

In the end the quesiton is should the NHL quit worrying about trying to be a big player in the US and just appeal to those areas that truly love hockey, which would bode well for the Quebec City's, Hamilton and Winnipegs!

It was a fairly interesting discussion, which you can check it out for yourself by going to the CKNW website and clicking on the Audio Vault link, newcomers have to register but it’s relatively simple, from there select the 11 -12 noon hour and listen in from 11:30 on til noon.

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