Good news for the NHL and its cable television partner, Versus.
Even though the network continues to find ways to piss off hockey fans who are generally just happy to have the game on in HD, ratings records are falling. We're far from saying the NHL can be satisfied with its television audience, but we're moving the needle in the right direction.
Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals, aired by Versus, allowed the network to blow away a days-old record for the most-watched hockey game on their air.
VERSUS, the exclusive cable television home of the National Hockey League (NHL), garnered a 2.6 national HH rating and averaged 2,955,348 viewers for its Game 3 telecast of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final on Tuesday, June 2, with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-2 defeat over the Detroit Red Wings at Mellon Arena. The game, which peaked at a 3.5 HH rating between 10:15 and 10:30 p.m., was the highest-rated and most-watched Stanley Cup Final game on cable since 2002. VERSUS, for the 8:00-10:45 p.m. time period, was the most-viewed cable network in the country and the top-rated network overall (broadcast and cable) among all key male demos.This only represents mild progress. NBC's numbers for the first two games were pretty good, and now the league is guaranteed at least one more game on NBC.
The 2.6 national HH rating is the best rating ever in the history of the network, beating both Lance Armstrong's final ride (7/24/05) and Game 5 between the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks in the Conference Finals (5/27/09) which both earned a 2.1 HH rating. Among average viewers, the Game 3 telecast topped the network's previous high set during Game 2 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final (2,608,371). VERSUS' Game 3 telecast showed a 37-percent increase in HH rating (2.6 vs 1.9) and 19-percent growth (2,955,348 vs 2,479,977) in average viewership over the average of Games 1 and 2 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final between the Red Wings and Penguins.
Locally, VERSUS garnered a 15.1 HH rating in Detroit and a 26.1 HH rating in Pittsburgh, making VERSUS the top-rated network (broadcast and cable) for the time period in both markets. VERSUS was also a top 5 cable network for the time period in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC and Philadelphia, among others.
VERSUS entered the 2009 Stanley Cup Final with tremendous momentum based on ratings and viewership gains in the regular season and through each round of the playoffs. The network's coverage of the 2009 Conference Final round was the highest-rated third round on cable since 1998 with HH ratings up 25 percent and average viewership up 30 percent from 2008. The third-round growth came on the heels of VERSUS airing the highest-rated Conference Semifinals on cable since 1997 and seeing 32-percent viewership growth in that round, 22-percent viewership growth in the Conference Quarterfinals and a 21-percent increase in viewership during the regular season.
The bottom line is that David Stern and Bud Selig still cackle at the NHL's television audience. It's still not a serious threat to them in any way. However, the NHL has gone from being fairly compared to MLS to a spot where they don't have to hide from their ratings any longer. There's still a ton of room for improvement, but the news has been pretty much all good so far in the 2009 playoffs, with the trend continuing in the Finals.
(By the way, about the link near the top of the post. Versus tried to take advantage of their much-larger-than-normal audience by airing a special episode of "Sports Soup" after the end of the game and before the postgame show. During that 30-minute gap, incensed hockey fans either shut off their TVs, turned on ESPNEWS, or found the NHL Network if they have it. I understand the desire to showcase an original show, no matter how crappy it is -- and "Sports Soup" is crap. But all Versus did was invite people to find postgame coverage elsewhere. Had the game ended at 9pm Eastern, I would have been fine with the move. By 10:30pm, however, people were not going to willingly wait a half hour for postgame coverage. After all, most people have jobs, including the idiots who run Versus.)