A look at TV ratings

I decided to look into the TV ratings for the Detroit Red Wings in comparison to other teams and their respective regional markets as well as try to compare the Wings to the other Detroit professional teams’ ratings.

The Red Wings’ games are carried on four channels during the season: Versus, NBC, Fox Sports Detroit, and the local Fox station. A majority of games are shown on FSD.

Wings vs. Rest of NHL
According to the New York Times, the Detroit Red Wings are the leading NHL team on Fox Sports regional markets this season.

Among all the Fox Sports Net regionals, the Red Wings lead all hockey teams, averaging a 5.0 rating and 96,915 households.

Fox Sports carries games for over half of the NHL, but obviously does not carry the Canadian teams.

Regular Season vs. Postseason Ratings
FSD has seen a big increase in ratings now that the Wings are in the playoffs compared to the regular season. Unfortunately, the playoff ratings are still lower than they were prior to the lockout.

On average, about 174,000 Metro Detroit households are watching the playoff games on FSN Detroit, a 150 percent gain from the regular season, according to Nielsen ratings released by the network.

But that’s a far cry from the frenzy in 2004, when about 250,000 local households were watching the games.

“The excitement is getting there,” said Tim Bryan, a spokesman for FSN Detroit. “There’s definitely more interest that we’re in the playoffs. This is a huge sports town.”

The Detroit Free Press also reports that the postseason ratings have been increased from the regular season, but are down by .3 points from last year’s playoffs.

The Red Wings, which averaged a 3.6 rating during the regular season on FSN, are averaging a 9.0 rating on FSN during the playoffs. In 2005-06, on FSN, the numbers were 4.7 for the regular season, 9.3 for the playoffs.

Wings vs. Other Detroit Sports
On April 28, all four Detroit teams had games or events shown on TV at the same time. The Detroit Pistons and Red Wings both had playoff games starting at 3pm. The NFL Draft began at 12pm where the Lions held the second overall pick. The Detroit Tigers had a game at 1pm. The Red Wings came out as the winner that day.

According to Nielsen Media Research, it was the Red Wings, which drew a 9.1 on Channel 4, followed by the Pistons (7.6 combined) on TNT and Channel 20, the NFL draft (5.4) on ESPN and the Tigers (2.8) on FSN.

One TV ratings point equals 19,380 area households.

“One of every four households had their TVs on watching Detroit sports,” Hauser said of Saturday’s sports viewership. “And it was a beautiful day; it wasn’t like it was raining. The ratings say there’s a ton of interest in all of our sports.”

NHL ratings
On a national level, NHL TV ratings are much lower than what they were in the 1990s.

The N.H.L. remains a league in recovery from the 2004-5 lockout and the miscalculations that led to the labor strife. So it is not surprising that it continues to struggle to rebuild its United States viewership. Nationally, for example, NBC’s regular-season average viewership of 1.34 million is but 45 percent of the 2.9 million in more glorious days on Fox 11 years ago.

”Is there a prospect for monumental growth in ratings? No,” Bill Daly, the league’s deputy commissioner, said yesterday in a telephone interview. ”Do we have what we consider good growth prospects in this environment? Yes.”

There is some hope that more viewers will watch the playoffs than they have so far in the first round. Three New York-area teams are involved, and while the Islanders and the Devils mean little nationally, the presence of the Rangers, who are leading Atlanta, 3-0, in their series after last night’s game, can be viewed only positively.

”It’s nice to have a revival in hockey in New York, in a market where the Rangers hadn’t won a playoff game before this year in 10 years,” Daly said.

Andrew’s Star Page has a nice table looking at the Stanley Cup finals TV ratings in the US since 1995:

Year Network Teams Games Carried Rating

1995 Fox New Jersey-Detroit 2 3.4
1996 Fox Colorado-Florida 2 3.6
1997 Fox Detroit-Philadelphia 1 4.0
1998 Fox Detroit-Washington 1 3.3
1999 Fox Dallas-Buffalo 3 3.4
2000 ABC New Jersey-Dallas 4 3.7
2001 ABC Colorado-New Jersey 5 3.3
2002 ABC Detroit-Carolina 3 3.6
2003 ABC New Jersey-Anaheim 5 2.9
2004 ABC Tampa Bay-Calgary 5 2.6
2006 NBC Carolina-Edmonton 5 2.3

As you can see, the ratings have been gradually declining over the years.

NHL vs. Other Leagues’ ratings
One thing that we often forget is that Canadian ratings are not factored into the US ratings. When hockey is a sport loved by Canadians, you do leave out a lot of your fan base and the NHL may be comparable to the NBA games in the regular season if you were to combine ratings from Canada and the US.

“People in the States underestimate (hockey),” he [Mark Cuban] said. “More people watch Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights than watch NBA basketball on Thursday night in the States. People in the U.S. don’t realize that. They don’t realize there are more hockey fans in a country of (32.8) million than there are NBA fans in the U.S. (population 300 million).

“I’d be out there promoting the NHL’s combined TV viewership in the U.S. and Canada. But it doesn’t happen.”

It’s an interesting point. The NBA on TNT, the league’s Thursday night national broadcast, averaged a 1.1 rating last season, or about one million households in the United States. Meanwhile, Hockey Night in Canada’s marquee Saturday night matchup is averaging about 1.27 million viewers in the northland. If you combine that with the typical rating for a national U.S. broadcast of an NHL game on the obscure Versus network — even if it’s a pittance of about 160,000 households — it represents an impressive North American audience.

“The perception among regular sports fans is going to be, `Wow. I didn’t realize hockey was that big.’ Nobody’s going to do the division and say, `Well, that’s in Canada so that doesn’t count.’ It’s just like a box office. They don’t say, `Well, it was stronger in Canada.’ We’ve had movies stronger in Canada per screen than they were in the U.S. No one cares. It’s just total box office. Advertisers don’t care. You guys drink beer. We drink beer. You guys play video games. We play video games. You guys wear stupid sneakers and pay too much money for ‘em. We do the same.”

“I think it’s just a matter of educating people that it’s not that far a leap from the NHL to the NBA. They’re on par with each other. But you don’t hear that.”

Problems with Versus
I think Versus has improved the quality of their production of NHL games. However, I also believe NHL ratings are down partially because of the Versus channel. It’s not in every household that has cable TV (unlike the NBA with TNT and ESPN/ABC). It’s a “harder” channel to find meaning that it doesn’t have the recognition ESPN does and people are less likely to know what channel it is in their local market.

Other than the games NBC has committed too, Versus is the exclusive NHL cable rights holder for NHL games in the conference finals and for the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals. And let’s not forget if the Ducks and Red Wings make it to the next round 40 percent of their fans will be on the outside unable to look in – that is not how you run a sports league in 2007.

When the current NHL agreement with Versus began two years ago Versus was in 65 percent of the cable ready homes. Two years later that number has ‘improved’ to 71 percent of the cable ready homes, and try as they Versus has failed the NHL at every possible level.

I don’t really have any overall analysis or comments as there really isn’t any ratings information that I have that compares the Wings’ TV ratings against other hockey markets or even against other Detroit sports teams year after year. I just thought I’d compile some recent reports that might be interesting to readers.

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3 Responses to “A look at TV ratings”

  1. PB says:

    Hiya Christy!

    Your analysis of the availability of “Versus” in cable households is apt. I work with a guy whose brother-in-law lives in Edmonton, but is a Calgary Flames fan (heh, figure *that* one out!). When I tried telling him where the games were on television he said, “Versus, what is that channel? That’s a weird name.”

    When I explained the channel was the old Outdoor Life Network. He said, “You mean the Ted Nugent channel? Why is hockey there?!” I might not have that one.

    He’s a casual fan of all sports but wanted to follow the Flames since they were in the playoffs. Just goes to show you how *well* the NHL and Versus are doing when it comes to promotion.

    They have greatly improved the production quality, but no one will watch if no one knows where to find the game. Something that the NBA/MLB/NFL has figured out long ago.

  2. Joe Hass says:

    The most puzzling part of this (and someone mentioned this online, but I can’t find it quickly) is the NHL’s decision in the second year of the three-year deal to renew for another three years. When the NHL signed on to Versus, the thinking went that Versus was going to ramp up their sports coverage. Remember: in 2005, both MLB and NFL had TV contracts in play. The talk was that Versus would get both, and really take off as a force against ESPN. When both fizzled (TBS won the MLB package; NFL Network “won” the NFL package), the NHL should’ve taken a long hard look at what Versus was and where it could go and realized it was a sinking ship. Instead, they’re stuck for four more years.

    I’m convinced that, when they look at the corpse of the NHL in the next five years, the renewal deal is what will be the point of no return.

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