While the NHL’s national TV partners were quite happy with viewership in the 2021-22 season, it’s a different story at the local level.
According to the Sports Business Journal, the league’s average ratings on RSNs this season dropped by 23%. The usual caveats apply – data for the Hurricanes and Predators was not available, and the league’s seven Canadian teams were not included.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that this was the NHL’s first full season since the 2018-19 campaign, with the last two each having fewer than 82 games due to the pandemic.
Only four teams saw their local rating increase this season: Los Angeles, Minnesota, Florida, and Detroit. Kings games were up 20% on Bally Sports West, while Wild games increased by 14% on Bally Sports North. Panthers games saw a 6% spike on Bally Sports Florida, while Red Wings games on Bally Sports Detroit were up a modest 2%.
In terms of overall ratings, Pittsburgh led the pack with a 5.43 on Root Sports Pittsburgh, followed by St. Louis (4.28 on Bally Sports Midwest), Buffalo (3.78 on MSG), Minnesota (3.04 on Bally Sports North), and Vegas (also a 3.04, on AT&T Sports Rocky Mountain).
At the bottom of the spectrum, the five lowest local ratings were posted by the aforementioned Kings (0.40 on Bally Sports West), the Islanders (0.37 on MSG +), the Devils (0.2 on MSG +), the Coyotes (0.16 on Bally Sports Arizona ), and the Ducks (0.15 on Bally Sports SoCal). Eight teams were down by at least 30%, including the king of the mountain Penguins (30%), Blackhawks (32%), Islanders (32%), Bruins (33%), Flyers (39%), Stars (39%) ), Golden Knights (40%), and Coyotes (a startling 58%).
Compared to three years ago, some of the changes are jarring. The Sabers led the league with an 8.13 rating, more than twice what it was this past season. The Penguins came in second at 6.38, nearly a full ratings point better than this year. The Golden Knights were third at 4.05, also a full point better than this year. In fourth were the Blues at 3.66, actually lower than the local rating in 2021-22. In fifth were the Wild at 2.9, who also did marginally better this year. The Coyotes, Kings, Ducks, and Devils also ranked in the bottom five three seasons ago, and ratings for each of the Coyotes, Ducks, and Devils were lower this time around.
There are plenty of reasons for the declines, one of which is carriage disputes. Since the 2018-19 season ended, carriage for the Bally Sports (still known as the Fox Sports RSNs back then) RSNs has plummeted, with Hulu, YouTube TV, and fuboTV all dropping those RSNs. MSG was also dropped by Comcast in Connecticut and New Jersey last year, while NESN has gotten dropped by YouTube TV. Altitude got dropped by Comcast. Dish and Sling have cut every RSN over the last couple of years, and are now RSN-free. And while these issues aren’t confined to the NHL, MLB and the NBA haven’t been hit quite nearly as hard locally as the NHL has.