TV Ratings for the NHL and NBA

This post is a bit of a momentous occasion for the Rally Cap – it’s the first post written in response to comments left on this blog and on our facebook page.  A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post detailing attendance figures for both the NHL and NBA.  This post prompted some feedback from readers mentioning that attendance only tells part of the story when it comes to a franchise’s business success.   Those readers were correct, most modern sports get a large portion of their revenue from HUGE television deals.  While I briefly covered television deals in a post about MLS back in March, the Rally Cap has yet to  explore television ratings.  Note: Since then, the NHL signed a new, massive (for them) television contract with Versus/NBC Sports.  The contract will average $200 million per year for 10 years.  While the NHL’s television contract does not come close to either of the other Big Four sports, this is a substantial step in the right direction for the league.

NBA local television ratings. Some of the statistics are pretty interesting. (Source: SportsBusiness Journal)

As with attendance figures, the SportsBusiness Journal is a great source for those interested in TV ratings (click for an explanation of what the ratings measures are) for teams around the NHL and NBA.  The April 18-24 issue of the SBJ has an article about television ratings in the NHL; the SBJ website posted a corresponding article on the NBA.   The numbers used are through April 11, which accounts for virtually the entire regular season (minus a game or two). The numbers presented in the SBJ article on NHL attendance are a bit incomplete.  While the NBA numbers are missing two teams (New Orleans and Toronto), the NHL numbers are missing the 6 Canadian teams (Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton and Ottawa).

Now to the interesting part – the numbers.

Things we learned:

Teams without competition do well – Some of the top performers are teams that are in one team markets (those that have either an NHL or NBA team, but not both).  The San Antonio Spurs lead the NBA in local television ratings with an average 10.19 rating, which was almost double second place Utah (5.6). Pittsburgh led the NHL in local television ratings at 8.68, Buffalo was second with a 7.03, and the St. Louis Blues were a surprising fifth with a 3.07.  Clearly it helps being the only thing in town.

The Cavs fans don't miss LeBron. TV ratings and attendance were still strong despite James taking his talents to South Beach.

Cleveland doesn’t really miss LeBron – Despite the largest season-to-season drop in ratings (54%) in the NBA, the Cleveland Cavaliers (another team from a one team market) were still 7th in the NBA in local ratings (3.93).  Combine the TV ratings with the attendance figures and it’s pretty clear that Cleveland loves their Cavs, King James or no King James.

New Jersey Hates its Teams – The Garden State just doesn’t support the Devils or the Nets, despite the fact that they are the only two teams that play in New Jersey that actually admit it.  The Nets played before the lowest average attendance in the NBA and had the lowest ratings in the NBA by a wide margin.  The Nets averaged a .29 rating, which is over three times lower than the Clippers (.99) who were next to last. The Devils just missed the bottom 5 in NHL TV ratings and attendance, posting a .47 rating and playing before under 15,000 fans per night.  The bright side for the Devils is that they posted better numbers than the Nets in both categories.

Atlanta Hates its Teams Too – The Hawks ranked 22nd in the NBA in attendance, drawing around 15,600 fans and are the only team in the playoffs to end up in the bottom 5 in average ratings at 1.17.  The Thrashers were second to last in local TV ratings in the NHL (.23) and played before an average of 13,400 fans.  Maybe a deep run in the playoffs, they already knocked off the Orlando Magic, will help the Hawks.  The only thing that will help the Trashers is moving somewhere cold.

Boston Loves its Teams – While New Jersey and Atlanta could care less about their NHL and NBA franchises, Boston is the only city to appear in the top 5 in local ratings for both the NBA and the NHL.  The Celtics averages a 4.73 ratings, while the Bruins pulled down a 3.12.  The cold New England winters have to help (what else are you going to do?), but most of the success comes from the fact that both teams were battling for the top spot in their conferences for most of the season.

Some Markets Like Hockey More than Basketball – One of the those markets is Washington, D.C.  Not exactly known for being a hotbed of hockey enthusiasm, the Capitals drew a 1.8 rating, while the Wizards drew a 1.15 (check out the article here).  As mentioned above, even though New Jersey hates its sports teams, the Devils outperformed the Nets.  Complete numbers for all teams were hard to come by, but based on previous years numbers Philadelpha loves the Flyers more than the Sixers and Minneapolis/St. Paul supports the Wild more than the Timberwolves.  I’m guessing the numbers might be different, but the outcome is still the same for both Philly and Minneapolis.

The NHL Needs to Give Up it Warm Weather Pipe Dream – As mentioned in my post on attendance, warm weather teams are not well supported.  Seven of the bottom ten teams in the NHL in attendance are located in the South or California.  Four of the bottom 5 NHL teams in the television ratings are in warm weather cities (the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers).  The only team in the bottom 5 of the NHL ratings not in a warm weather city are the Islanders.  It will be interesting to see if the NHL thinks about moving any of these teams now that they have their lucrative new TV contract.

The NBA Had a Good Year – Attendance was up for the NBA; television ratings too. According to the SportsBusiness Journal, “Overall, the local ratings story was a good one for the league. Fourteen of the 28 teams that SportsBusiness Journal obtained ratings on saw double-digit increases, including big market teams like the Los Angeles Clippers (up 130 percent on Prime Ticket), Chicago Bulls (up 91 percent on CSN Chicago) and New York Knicks (up 89 percent on MSG).”  ESPN reports that national numbers mirrored the increase in local numbers, “…[the NBA's] three national TV partners all had their most viewers ever this season, topped by a 42 percent increase for TNT. ABC was up 38 percent and ESPN had a 28 percent jump, the league said Friday.”  Not bad for a league that might not have a season next year.

… And So Did the NHL - According the The Triangle Business Journal, citing information from the Sports Business Journal, the NHL on Versus saw a 19% increase in viewership and NBC saw a 3.9% increase.  Not earth shattering numbers, but moving in the right direction.

Next season the NHL could be presented with a unique opportunity – it could open the season (or play the entire season) without competition from the NBA.  If the NBA labor situation isn’t resolved, will the NHL benefit?

Disagree/agree/just have a something to say, leave a comment.

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3 responses to “TV Ratings for the NHL and NBA

  1. Pingback: Nba Tv | TagHall

  2. This is all great information and a good read at that. One thing I do not understand is why many people like you think hockey can only be successful in cold weather climates? The ice is frozen the same way in all arenas throughout North America. When your factor in all the snowbirds that have moved to warmer climates then you should have enough sparked interest to get others involved too.

    The one thing missing in many non-traditional hockey markets are owners who are willing to spend enough money to put a winning product on the ice. An example of this is what happened with the Atlanta Thrashers. People think they moved because nobody went to the games which is far from the truth. All the pro teams in Atlanta generally have fair-weather fans that don’t support their teams well at all times. It just sounds easy to count out the Thrashers because their sport happened to be the non-traditional one in town. The real reason was the fact that the owners never spent enough money to bring in the personal to be successful. In my opinion the city of Atlanta never really had a fair shot with their second go around with an NHL club because of the ownership.

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