Thursday, June 14, 2012

NBA vs NHL Playoff TV Ratings

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on the regular season fan attendance for the NBA and the NHL. With the conclusion of the NHL season and the NBA finals two games deep, I wanted to take a look at the viewership for the playoffs for each sport, specifically the championship series.

The Numbers

The National Hockey League saw very promising signs of good viewership in the playoffs.... until the final series. The first round averaged 936,000 viewers, this amount of viewers is the most the NHL has seen in the first round since 1994. The semifinals saw similar success. The average views increased to 1.32 million, the most on record since 1994. Overall in the first three rounds of the NHL playoffs there was an averaged of 1.09 million viewers which was the most in 15 years. Then came the Stanley Cup Final..... The Stanley Cup Final averaged 3.01 million viewers in 2012. Last year the Stanley Cup Final averaged 4.57 million viewers, a shocking 34% decrease.

The National Basketball Association has yet to see the full results of their playoffs, but so far they have been excellent. The Eastern Conference Finals set records for the most watched series in the history of the NBA. The series averaged over 10,000,000 viewers. Game one of the NBA Finals saw similar success with about 11,000,000 viewers. The NBA's success was helped by the variety of digital platforms from ESPN. Some of the platforms include and ESPN Mobile.


The only explanation for the NHL lack luster performance in viewers for the Stanley Cup Finals is the teams playing. Last year the Boston Bruins played the Vancouver Canucks in the finals. Fan support and passion for hockey must be high in Boston and Vancouver as opposed to this years New Jersey and Los Angeles. Although the Stanley Cup Finals did not turn out as the NHL may have wanted, they do have to be excited about the success they saw with the rest of the playoffs.

The NBA has seen success based on great teams, players, and series. The Eastern Conference Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat featured superstars like Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh (when healthy), Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. Players in the Finals will be just as good with James, Wade, Bosh, Durant, Harden and Westbrook. If the players were not reason enough to watch this years playoffs, the series (specifically the Eastern Conference Finals) was spectacular. The seven game series in the Eastern Conference Finals saw everything a basketball fan could want in a series... including a little controversy.

Final Thought

I am not going to pretend to be a NHL fan.... at all, but the lack of attention for their championship amazes me. Not only was viewership down, but the 'Worldwide Leader in Sports' seemed to care very little about the Stanley Cup as well. I understand ESPN's reason for talking up the NBA Finals (televised on ABC) more than the Stanley Cup Finals (televised on NBC), but we are talking about the STANLEY CUP, a major championship for one of the four major sport leagues in the United States. At the conclusion of an NBA Finals game, ESPN can talk all night about the game. Every aspect of the game being analyzed for hours. At the conclusion of a Stanley Cup Finals game, they will talk about the game..... briefly.


Statistics from:,


  1. Drew, great piece. I think that if the NBA Finals go to a game 6 or 7, ABC will see the best viewership that they have ever had for an NBA Finals.

    To your ESPN point. ESPN couldn't care less about the NHL. Why? They don't have a big hockey presence. ABC doesn't do games. They have no desire to promote leagues that they don't show on air. The NBA on the other hand is one of ESPN's marquee leagues. Of course they show them nonstop. I actually think it would be interesting if we pulled the data that Deadspin keeps on how much time is spent talking about different sports on Sportscenter and then compare those numbers to the TV contracts that ESPN has with those leagues. ESPN is merely out to service "their" leagues. Why do you think that they don't talk about the Sandusky trial? The Big 10 is a huge ESPN/ABC interest so they would never want to talk negatively about the marquee team in the Big 10. It's no coincidence, it's all business to ESPN. They could care less about distributing highlights evenly.

    Sorry for the rant. Love this piece D-Ro.

  2. I appreciated the rant. Glad you enjoyed it. I couldn't agree more about the business of ESPN, I was just simply amazed at the lack of attention for the Stanley Cup.