National Hockey League sees local ratings dip in return to full season

The NHL’s local TV story took a hit this season, as regular-season games on US RSNs posted a 23% ratings drop compared to last year’s shortened season, according to Nielsen data analyzed by my SBJ colleague David Broughton.

The main reason for such an extensive drop – only four teams showed ratings increases – is due to the length of the season. Because of the COVID pandemic, last year’s NHL season started in the middle of January and was only 56 games long.

This season started in October and was 82 games long. Historically, across MLB, the NBA and the NHL, shorter seasons mean that individual games are more meaningful and produce higher ratings for each game.

The data analyzed includes 23 US-based teams in 20 markets, covering 42% of the country. Viewership data was unavailable for the Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators and the seven Canadian teams (which includes three playoff teams and the Montreal Canadiens, who had the league’s worst record).

The Penguins skated their way back to the top of local ratings.getty images

Let’s start with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their games on AT&T Pittsburgh had the league’s highest ratings for the second consecutive season, with a 5.43 average rating, still 30% below the previous season. The Penguins have posted the league’s highest ratings nine times over the past 16 seasons.

St. Louis Blues games on Bally Sports Midwest (4.28 average) and Buffalo Sabers games on MSG (3.78) rounded out the season’s top three positions.

In Minnesota, Wild games on Bally Sports North jumped 14% thanks in large part to the team’s on-ice performance that included a franchise-record 53 wins. The Wild’s 3.04 rating is up 50% over the past three seasons.

And the team with the league’s best record – the Florida Panthers – posted its highest-ever local rating. Panthers games on Bally Sports Florida were up 6% this season, although their 0.46 ratings average is still among the NHL’s lowest.

The Panthers have doubled their local TV rating over the previous 10 years, which is a reason why the team signed a new media rights deal with Bally Sports Florida that more than doubles its rights fees, which went from one of the league’s lowest at around $ 6 million per season to one that’s in the high teens.

Boston Bruins games on NESN drew the highest audience of all NHL teams for the third straight season with 661,000 homes. That comes as Bruins games posted their lowest average rating (2.8 on NESN), which is down 33%.

Ratings for the Seattle Kraken’s first season came in at 0.96 on Root Sports, suggesting that the team has a lot of room to grow in that market. When the NHL’s previous expansion team – the Vegas Golden Knights – debuted in 2017-18, it had a 1.87 rating on AT&T Rocky Mountain.

The Anaheim Ducks, who suffered through their fourth straight losing season, had the league’s lowest rating (a 0.15 on Bally Sports SoCal) for the fifth time in the last six years. And Arizona Coyotes games on Arizona points saw the biggest drop among all teams, down nearly 60%.

Viewership for nationally televised NHL games on ABC, ESPN and TNT was up around 18% compared to the league’s final season with NBC Sports in 2020-21. The average of 460,000 viewers per game was the league’s highest mark since 2016-17.

TNTwhich accounted for the bulk of the league’s cable schedule this season with 51 games, averaged 361,000 viewers, an increase of 29% from games on NBCSN in the 2020-21 season.

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ and read his weekly newsletter and listen to his weekly podcast.

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