Saturday, May 19, 2007

Canada’s team by attrition, but not by the numbers

While we hear a lot of mumbling that we need to support the Canadian team in the playoffs, there’s apparently not much backing up of the talk in the television ratings.

William Houston of the Globe and Mail has done his number crunching for the week and come up with not the best of news for the NHL head office, despite having one of the more exciting teams in the NHL and playing a heated rival, the Sens/Sabres games have yet to propel the CBC broadcasts over the two million mark.

The Senators television numbers peaked at 1.9 million for game two and since then the numbers have declined, with Wednesday night’s game four match pulling in 1.69 million viewers for the Mother Corporation.

With game five planned for a 2 pm start in Eastern Canada and an 11 am start on the West Coast, all to benefit NBC’s coverage; it’s doubtful that they’ll break the 2 million barrier this weekend.

A number of reasons have been given for the lack of attentive fans parked in front of their televisions, but the one getting the most traction seems to be a rather strong dislike of the Sens by the hockey viewing fans in Toronto, who apparently are pouting because the rural rubes up the road made the grade and their heroes did not.

Toronto as is its way it seems will only show an interest when their own self interest is at stake, judging by the success of the folks in Blue and White; it may be a long time before the CBC can ever count on the huge numbers again!

Houston: Maple Leafs fans exact revenge by ignoring Senators' games, analysts say
The Globe and Mail
May 17, 2007 at 9:04 PM EDT

They're the only Canadian team still alive in the National Hockey League playoffs. And they're a good bet to win the Stanley Cup.

But the Ottawa Senators are not drawing the sort of television audiences expected of a team en route to a championship. A Senators game on the CBC has yet to produce two million viewers. In fact, for the fourth game of the Eastern Conference final between Ottawa and the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday, only 1.693 million tuned in.

At this point last year, the Edmonton Oilers, in their 2006 Western Conference final against the Anaheim Ducks, had produced two audiences of more than two million — 2.04 million for the third game and 2.44 million for the fourth.

Ottawa's best in the Eastern final has been 1.976 million for the second game.

In 2004, the Calgary Flames averaged 1.873 million viewers over six games in their Western final against the San Jose Sharks. Two of those games were played in the afternoon, which is a bad time slot, and the remainder had late starts. Yet, the Flames' audience average in that series is about 7-per-cent larger than the Senators' 1.716 million for their four games against Buffalo, all of which had prime-time starts in the East.

Last year, the Oilers averaged 1.977 million for their five games against the Ducks, about 12 per cent more than the Senators' average.

So, why isn't Ottawa doing better? One broadcaster said several factors are at play.
"Ottawa's a small market," he said. "There's no history there [of NHL playoff success] and what there is, is bad. People don't like Ottawa because of the politics. And Toronto Maple Leafs fans hate the Senators."

Nick Kypreos, a hockey commentator for Rogers Sportsnet, believes Toronto is the important factor. Fans in the country's largest market just can't stand to watch their provincial rival succeed.

"I think it's too painful for them," Kypreos said. "If you're a Leaf fan who has lived the misery of 40 years without a Cup, it may bother you that a Tampa Bay Lightning organization or a Carolina can win. But there's some distance there.

"This is different. This is like watching your next-door neighbour get a new Porsche and you've got a 1967 Chevy Impala sitting in your driveway."

The last Maple Leafs championship was, of course, in 1967.

Kypreos played for the New Rangers when they won the Cup in 1994, ending a 54-year drought.
"I lived through the Rangers-New York Islanders rivalry," he said. "Prior to the Rangers' winning, the chant on Long Island was, '1940, 1940.' That was the one thing the Islander fans could hang their hat on."

If Ottawa wins the Cup, Kypreos says, the Leafs can expect a similar chant when they visit Scotiabank Place.

But what about Senators owner Eugene Melnyk appealing to Leafs fans for their support? "I think that just pours gasoline on the fire," Kypreos said.

They might also remember Melnyk jumping up and down and high-fiving at Scotiabank Place after Ottawa scored its eighth goal in a drubbing of the Maple Leafs in the regular season.

Still, Joel Darling, the head of the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, says he's satisfied with the Senators' audiences. He notes that it's still a relatively young franchise.

Assuming the Sens advance to the Cup final, he anticipates hockey fans, perhaps even in Toronto, jumping on board.

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