some things about NHL It would be necessary to remember this if we were not constantly reminded of them: the dialogue surrounding the league is often idiotic. The news is often bad and a lot of the time, the mistakes were unimportant.
So with that in mind, there was a bit of data circulating Wednesday morning that seemed to tick all the boxes: America’s national television viewership, in the second season of the league’s deal with ESPN and TNT, was down 22 percent from the first, According to the Sports Business Journal.
That’s quite a drop regardless of context, and it probably doesn’t bode well for all of this. Anything the NHL says or does in this space should be treated with a healthy level of skepticism — and All points made by Sean MacIndoe Wednesday morning applied about (now) Gary Bettman’s 30-year-old era.
That’s why so many people on Twitter have clicked on him; It matches a lot of our live experiences, whether we’re fans, people covering sports, or both. “The NHL reveals a hole, and then falls into it” is not a metaphor. It is an observed reality, and it has occurred regularly for… eighteen years? thirty? a hundred? Did the Montreal Wanderers have a media rights deal to fall through?
In this case, though — and perhaps only this case — you should think very carefully before absorbing the ESPN/TNT deal as a flop because there are legitimate explanations for the dips. If this surprised you, you’re not alone.
In the case of ESPN, they started using hockey as counter-programming to NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” Nationally, this is where other broadcasts die; American sports fans, other than those who support the participating teams, have better things to do. People, they will be shocked to hear, they’d rather watch football or have dinner like them.
So in 2021, ESPN reserved that spot for things like NBA G-League games (Ignite vs. In 2022, the approach changed, along with the decision to move from eight televised games — which no doubt got a bump from the curiosity factor back to ESPN – to 17, many of which were broadcast against the most authoritative TV juggernaut on the planet. You’ve got to show them somewhere.
And of course, if you remove recent Sunday night games from the equation and they’re rated on the same standard as last season, the ratings rise to an average of 491,000. That’s better than the ESPN average during the 2021-22 season.
According to SBJ, TNT averaged 359,000 viewers over the 36 games, which is a 16 percent decrease compared to the 20 games that aired in the same period last season. At least seven matches were affected by power outages in the area. This is a new and important wrinkle. Bruins broadcasts on TNT, for example, have been blacked out in New England because of NESN’s regional rights — and last season, NESN drew an average of 661,000 viewers for those games. It’s a similar story with penguins, who typically possess the highest domestic share of ratings in the league. the notice It was blacked out on TNT as well. New York? A very large TV market. It would be nice to be reflected in the numbers, right?
And perhaps most importantly, even without that context — if there were no blackouts or scheduling decisions to consider — we’re talking about a few months’ worth of games. NHL problems are nothing new. It’s not new at all, in fact. This season’s salary cap crunch is sure to kill the trade deadline. But TV ratings from year to year in November and December, when deals rarely happen? This is a harder sell.
No nested beginnings? A pain in the ass for media people and… media people. Comprehensive failure of game development? This is a slow drain, not a crater year after year. Playing for relationships? Boring commenters? Terrible star marketing? Failed to develop the game as a national American television product, rather than relying on 90,000 people in southwestern Pennsylvania, at the same time Sidney CrosbyToys? We’re trying to find the man who did this.
These issues are as real as they are long-standing. And it’s not neatly wrapped into any single data point, let alone something as volatile as TV numbers. Remember it today — and remember it in a few months, after nearly 20 ABC games have been consolidated into the accounts. That will fix the ratings. Bigger problems aren’t going anywhere.
(Photo: Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)