Saturday, February 03, 2007

Worrisome facts behind TV numbers in the USA

The New York Times has a story on the web this weekend that should send a shiver through the hearts of the NHL executives up the road in Manhattan.

Now the possible good news for the NHL is the fact that the New York Times actually took time to even recognize that the league is around, but that euphoria would quickly fade once they get past the headline. Last Saturday night, the New Jersey Devils played the Florida Panthers in the sunshine state, a game which it's reported attracted 18,136 fans to the BankAtlantic Center.

Broadcast back to the New York/New Jersey market, the game drew, (take a deep breath here Mr. Bettman) 736 households out of nearly 7.4 million. Now sure, New York is Ranger territory and maybe even Islander territory, but surely even the casual hockey fan might want to watch a game on television, and to only attract 736 viewers is well embarrassing to say the least.

Even more disturbing is the fact that New York Titans played the Rochester Knighthawks in a National Lacrosse League match on a competiting New York station and attracted 10,271 households.

Lacrosse is still a sport looking to make its mark in the sporting world of North America, but judging by a one night snap shot may be in a better position than it previously thought.

The NHL which at one time was considered part of the big four of pro sports in the US, is finding that the Arena Football's, NASCARS and god help us now even Lacrosse are all beginning to attract more fans and with that will come better advertising deals.

It's enough to keep league executives up late at night, or at least it should be!

February 2, 2007
TV Sports
It Takes a Village to Put These Ratings in Perspective

It was only one of 82 games for the Devils this season, on the road last Saturday night against the Florida Panthers. Not much will be recalled. The Panthers won, 4-2, in front of 18,136 fans at the BankAtlantic Center.

But something quite extraordinary occurred in the New York market: A hockey game broke out on MSG, but almost no one watched.

Only 736 households — a minuscule .01 rating — tuned in.

That is 736 out of nearly 7.4 million, from 7:30 to 10 p.m.

The figure is embarrassing to mull. Saturday is a low-viewing night, sure. But 736? The game didn’t face unusual competition. The Sabres-Islanders game was on FSNY, but the Rangers had played that afternoon.

“Titanic” was on TNT, “Cops” on Channel 5, college basketball on ESPN and ESPN2, and a rerun of “Without a Trace” on Channel 2.

But 736?

There are wee places in New Jersey whose housing units total about as much, like Mullica Hill (737), the borough of Allentown (718) and the township of South Hackensack (830), according to the 2000 census.

To find 736 homes can’t be easy for Nielsen Media Research. It is like trying to find ice chips in a haystack, Pat Buchanan supporters in my mother’s Century Village development in Boca Raton, Fla., or hair on my dome.

But these are the Devils who lead the Atlantic Division, the Devils who have won three Stanley Cups, the Devils who were brought to New Jersey by John J. McMullen, who loved them so very much. Unfortunately, these are also the Devils who live in the Rangers’ shadow.

To be fair, the Devils don’t always draw 736 local households to their televised ice soirees. They average 13,206 (based on a .18 rating), better than the Islanders (7,336), but far worse than the Rangers (36,834).

Among all the Fox Sports Net regionals, the Red Wings lead all hockey teams, averaging a 5.0 rating and 96,915 households. But that’s Detroit. In the Miami market, about 2,000 homes watched the Devils-Panthers game on FSN Florida.

Mike Emrick, the TV voice of the Devils, was not speaking to the Group of 736 (Steve Cangialosi substituted), but he was in Detroit for the next afternoon’s NBC network game. He was surprised by Saturday’s rating, but he preferred not to dwell on how much work he, his partner, Chico Resch, and their crew put in to provide so much hockey to so few.

“I don’t know whether ignorance is bliss, but it doesn’t affect what we do,” he said yesterday by telephone. “And we don’t hear much about the numbers.”

He added: “I’m shocked that the Devils aren’t appreciated by more people. They’ve done their best to be successful, that’s for sure.”

On Saturday night, when Buffalo defeated the Islanders, 5-3, the game attracted a modest 8,103 local TV households on FSNY, a little more than usual for the team. But a minor surprise, beyond the Tale of the 736, was that 10,271 households clicked to SNY to watch the New York Titans play the Rochester Knighthawks in a National Lacrosse League game on SNY.
While a .14 rating is normally a rationale for a team to lock itself in the Zamboni garage (and a .01 is a reason never to come out), it is a sign of hope for the Titans, who are in their inaugural season in the N.L.L. and were quick to alert the news media of their ratings triumph.

Maybe the Titans benefited Saturday night from being a novelty, from letting the Islanders and the Devils split the hockey vote, from bearing the same name the Jets once did in their Harry Wismer-Al Dorow vintage, or from the notoriety brought to lacrosse by the Duke sexual-assault case.

“We have a young audience, a young demographic, and we drew 13,127 for our home opener,” George Daniel, the Titans’ president, said. “Lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport in the country, and the N.L.L. is TV friendly.”

He said lacrosse was similar to soccer and hockey in its physicality but had much more scoring. On Saturday, the Titans lost, 22-18. Daniel added that it was possible for his Titans to sustain Saturday’s rating in future games.

Emrick, who called lacrosse for NBC during the N.H.L. lockout, is an admirer of the players and the sport. “They’re schoolteachers one day, and the next they come out and play,” he said. “And boy, do they leave it all out there. You have to hate humanity not to like lacrosse players.”

The N.L.L. is not the first league to compare its ratings favorably with the N.H.L.’s. The Arena Football League has done so with its national ratings, but another league’s crowing certainly is not required to recognize the sapping of the N.H.L.’s television strength in the United States.
Last Wednesday’s N.H.L. All-Star Game found 691,000 viewers on Versus, a huge falloff from the 2.7 million on ABC when it was last played, in 2004, and a still steeper drop from the 6.5 million who watched in 1996 on Fox. The game should have been on NBC, where it could have received the wider exposure compared with Versus, which lacks full cable distribution.

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