I hate to keep picking on Versus and their low ratings but its hard not to. They are an easy target. SportsBusinessJournal’s John Ourand has the latest NHL on Versus numbers –
Top NHL game on Versus last week (LA-StL) only drew 245K viewers on Tuesday night.
The good news? It outdrew last Monday’s Pens/Isles bust. The bad news? I think that’s pretty obvious. 245,000 is a pretty small number in the realm of cable television. In Versus’ defense, they are airing more games than ever and many are non-exclusive. And for the first part of this year, the numbers are up, although they were greatly boosted by record ratings for the opening game. Since then, they have fallen into a little bit of a rut with few games standing out.
So who do we blame? How about Versus? Versus and NBC were supposed to promote the game more than ever. Everyone was pretty confident that ratings were going to see a significant jump, especially with the NBA in a lockout. On top of that, Versus added some original programming which gave the NHL some better lead-ins and more promotional opportunities. But Versus is struggling with those programs. TVsportsratings has the ugly details –
Week of 11/14: MLB Net=18k viewers. Fox Soccer=30k. VS=60k. Speed=132k. Golf=288k. NFLN=310k.
So, Versus has a long ways to go when it comes to being competitive in the sports landscape. That’s probably not helping things for the NHL but it’s not fair to blame them completely. Who are the real culprits? Many would point the finger at the Nielsen ratings. Their system isn’t perfect and there’s all kinds of issues with it. Then again, every other network also uses that same flawed system. So, unless someone at Nielsen has a huge hockey bias, then that’s probably not it.
I point the finger at hockey fans. Most hockey fans do not tune into national games. They follow home teams and that’s just about it. No league is affected by that more than the NHL. All the other major leagues can draw people without a rooting interest but the NHL has always struggled with that. True, MLB is starting to see that and it’s showing in their ratings.
Regionally, the NHL is still doing pretty well. I’m betting that most teams will see a nice jump in RSN ratings once they get fully analyzed. Just last week, NESN set a new ratings record for Bruins games. Regional success in nice but it doesn’t help the league’s national profile very much. Until the league can convince fans to watch other teams besides the ones they cheer for, it will continue on as a niche sport, struggling to find its way nationally.