Category Archives: Hockey

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.

Attendance in the NBA and NHL

While Cavs fans might feel betrayed by LeBron James, they have shown their support for the team despite a 19-63 record. (Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)

Beyond my interest in sports as fan, my interest in the business of sports has grown over the past several years.  One of the aspects of sports business that I find the most interesting are attendance figures for teams in the various leagues. I’m interested in the raw numbers, but also in what cause fluctuations from year to year or within seasons.  A helpful tool for my odd obsession with attendance figures is the SportsBusiness Journal’s Turnstile Tracker.  The SBJ, in its April 4-10 issue, published the latest Turnstile Tracker for the NBA and the NHL and some of the statistics were surprising.  Let’s take a look at the NBA first.

NBA – A couple of things jumped out at me as I was perusing the figures.  These numbers are through March 29, which accounts for between 35-38 of an NBA team’s 41 home games.

1. The Cleveland Cavaliers are 2nd in the NBA in overall attendance at 763,636 fans through 38 games (the Chicago Bulls are first by a wide margin – 803,874 fans through 37 games).  While the average (20,096) isn’t 100% of capacity (which is 20,562 for the Quicken Loans Arena), it’s still pretty impressive.  Cleveland wasn’t competitive this season, finishing just 19-63, and lost LeBron James to the Miami Heat in the offseason. It’s almost like the fans in Cleveland came out to support the team as a way to stick it to LeBron.  Impressively, 24 home games counted at the time of publication, were played before an arena holding 98% or more of capacity.  The only other teams – the Boston Celtics, Chicago, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers, and the Utah Jazz,  to match that are in the playoffs or in Utah’s case are the only thing in town (no offense to Real Salt Lake who don’t play for most of the NBA season). Several playoff teams – the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Atlanta Hawks – couldn’t match Cleveland’s support.

2. The Philadelphia 76ers played the most games (25 out of 35) in front of crowds that were less than 75% of capacity.  This surprises me.  The 76ers got off to a rough start, but were competitive throughout the season and made the playoffs.  On average only 70.8% of the seats in the arena were filled on any given night.  It’s pretty clear that the Sixers have slipped to #4, and maybe even #5 behind the Philadelphia Union, in the pecking order of Philadelphia sports.

3. Only two teams (the New Jersey Nets and the Indiana Pacers) played before crowds of fewer than 10,000 fans.  New Jersey played a game before just 8,866 fans, and Indiana played before 9,466.  An interesting fact about the Nets – despite playing before the lowest crowd in the NBA this season, the team has enjoyed an 8.6% increase in attendance from last year.

4. Overall, the NBA has seen a 1% increase in attendance vs. last season and is playing before arenas filled to 90.1% of capacity.

It seems like a lot of fans will be missing the NBA if the current labor situation does not get resolved before the start of next season.  The current collective bargaining agreement expires on June 30 and the possibility of a lockout looks more and more likely. That said, there are clearly a couple of markets that probably wouldn’t miss the hardwood too much if the 2011-2012 season if the NBA shortens or cancels its season.

NHL – The NHL, more than the NBA, relies on putting fans in the seats to pay the bills, and is having a pretty good year overall.  The numbers cited below account for between 37-40 of the NHL’s 41 home games. Some interesting numbers:

1. The NHL is averaging only a couple hundred fewer fans per game than the NBA – 17,071 for the NHL to the NBA’s 17,262.  Not bad for a sport that is a distant 4th in the pantheon of American sports.

2. While it might have seemed sad that the Nets and Pacers played before fewer than 10,000 fans, they have nothing on the NHL.  The New York Islanders played a game at Nassau Coliseum in front of just 3,136 fans.  It is worth mentioning that this game was played during the post-Christmas blizzard that blanketed much of the Northeast in over a foot of snow, but other teams were still able to but fans in the seats.  There were 4 other teams that played before crowds of fewer than 10,000 fans – the Atlanta Thrashers (8,461), the Columbus Blue Jackets (9,128), the New Jersey Devils (5,329) and the Phoenix Coyotes (6,706).

3. Of the teams with the 10 lowest average attendance figures (click here to see the list from ESPN – this list doesn’t match the SBJ list exactly, but it is illustrative), 6 are located in the South and 1 is in California.  It’s pretty clear that the NHL’s strategy to expand into the South isn’t working and some of those teams need to be relocate to areas that will support the teams.

4. Chicago loves it NBA and NHL teams.  The Blackhawks and Bulls are the leaders in average attendance for both leagues.  While part of this can be attributed to the United Center’s ability to hold nearly 20,00o seated fans for hockey and nearly 21,000 for basketball, both teams are playing to capacities of over 100%, meaning fans are flocking to see the Blackhawks and Bulls play and are willing to stand to do it.  Impressive.

Philadelphia fans have been turning out in bunches to see the Flyers, but have abandoned the Sixers.

5.  While Philly has seemingly abandoned the playoff bound Sixers, the Flyers have seen an uptick in attendance compared to last season.  The Flyers are 3rd in the NHL in average attendance and have played before 100.9% of capacity over the course of the season.

It will be interesting to see if the NHL capitalizes on the potential NBA labor strife.  If there is a shortened or canceled NBA season, will that mean more fans going to see hockey?  Time will tell.

Time to Move On

What is there to say about yesterday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers?  The Eagles cost me $5!  Any time the Eagles play the Packers or 49ers (she lives outside of San Francisco), my wife’s grandmother calls to set up a bet.  The Packers were my wife’s grandfather’s favorite team.  He grew up in Wisconsin and was a life long Packers fan.  He and I used to bet on the games, and now my wife’s grandmother has continued the tradition.

Beyond the Eagles costing me 5 dollars, this paragraph should suffice. The Birds played poorly in every facet of the game.  It’s easy to blame David Akers for the loss, his two missed field goals are the most glaring mistakes; however, this is just not accurate.  The defense was porous, giving up points at the most inopportune times.  Sean McDermott’s squad gifted the Packers points (see the offside penalty that extended Green Bay’s fist scoring drive), and the tackling was atrocious.  The other side of the ball wasn’t much better.  Michael Vick and company were unable to mount sustained drives when the team needed them most.

With that brief discussion of my thoughts on yesterday’s game out of the way, I am moving on.  While I clearly support the Eagles and Phillies the most vocally, I am a fan of both the Sixers and the Flyers.  Some might not know it, but there are other sports going on in Philly.  The Flyers sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 26-10-5 record and have played well all season.  They are fun to watch and I suggest Philly sports fans going through withdrawal should check them out. The Sixers sit 8th in the Eastern Conference, despite a 15-22 record.  Not to shabby.

With over a month until pitchers and catchers report, I will be focusing most of the blogging on the Flyers and Sixers.  I will also be looking to blog more about soccer and college basketball (Duke has started the season 15-0, and BU look like they will compete for the America East title).

What to Do?

This weekend was a tough one for Philadelphia sports fans.  Our beloved Phillies flamed out in the NLCS against an inferior opponent, and the Eagles forgot how to hold a lead against the Titans.   I could easily write a post full of recriminations of both the Phillies and the Eagles (hello Ryan Howard, how do you not swing at that pitch!? But don’t blame him, as set out in this post on FanGraphs) but those topics have been covered to death by both the mainstream media and in the blogosphere.  Instead of harping on that mistakes that were made (Kenny Britt and his 225 yards and 3 TDs against the Birds), I am asking – where to I turn my sporting attentions after this tough weekend?

The baseball season is over, and with the Phillies already committing $143 million to just 16 players in 2011 there will be no major signings to keep the hot stove hot during the winter.  Very little chance of entertainment or something interesting happening in that area.

The football season does not look promising either.  This Eagles team is deeply flawed, but then again so is the rest of the NFL, and looked lost in the second half against the Titans.  While Sunday’s game should settle any talk of a quarterback controversy, it didn’t provide much hope for the future.  With the Eagles facing just two teams with records currently under .500 the second half of the season could be rough.   While I haven’t given up hope yet, the NFC is a conference of parity, the Birds will need to get their act together to make some noise.  Plus, this week is a bye.

It’s much to early to care about the NHL or the NBA in a meaningful way.  Sure I will catch some games here or there, but these leagues don’t consume my attention until well into the spring (read when they get to the playoffs, with over half the teams making the postseason the regular season is rendered irrelevant).

Cameron Indoor Stadium, home of my favorite team - the Duke Blue Devils.

We are still weeks away from college basketball tipping off, but here again is another sport where I just can’t bring myself to focus more than a small amount of my attention before conference play starts in January. Sure there will be some early season marquee matchups (Duke-Michigan State on December 1 or a rematch of last year’s title game – Duke-Butler on December 4) that will draw my interest, but the season doesn’t really start until you are in conference play.

College football provides me with some distraction, but with Penn State floundering my interest is only in seeing Boise State crash the BCS title party.  What is a sports fan to do? Where do I turn for my sports distractions?

I am counting on Rhett and the Terriers to deliver me some sporting hope.

It appears college hockey, a realm where my alma mater – Boston University is a contender, and world soccer will be my areas of interest for the next several months.  While I can never quit the Eagles, I need more than just one team to fulfill my sporting needs.  So here’s to the Terriers! Here’s to Arsenal and Reading FC!  My sporting hopes lie with you, don’t let me down.

Suggestions are welcomed.