How Low Can They Go?

30 Nov

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.


Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Boston Bruins, NESN, NHL, Ratings, Television, Versus


2 responses to “How Low Can They Go?

  1. Matt Gee

    November 30, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    Well, being a Hockey fan for over 30 years now, blaming the fans is just not going to cut it with me.
    First and foremost, I really like ‘Versus’ thought it was a great show, diverse, great analysts, just damn good coverage. Just because I’m an Oilers fan does not mean to say I don’t want to watch other teams play! personally I love watching the Bruins, Maple Leafs, in fact any NHL hockey coverage I can get at really especially being in the Hockey starved capital of Europe, the UK.

    Whatever they were thinking by not selling the rights to ESPNAmerica for coverage rights I’m at a loss for words. 35 European countries are covered by ESPN, but not the UK, which has probably one of the better developing leagues in Europe, and our only single Cable company in the Midlands cannot not now cover the NHL. Rubbish, I used to watch 2-3 games a day, whatever I could get my hands on, as I said earlier and now nothing, zero, zip, thanks for nothing, at least Turkey and the Southern States of Africa, being the Hockey powers that they are get coverage via ESPNAmerica, LoL!

    So please don’t blame us fans! being disabled, getting cable and being able to watch the NHL for the last two seasons was incredible,helped me with creating something like a near normal day, now nothing, it really sucks, big time!

    • paranoidpuck

      November 30, 2011 at 5:24 pm

      In no way am I saying there aren’t hardcore NHL fans. They are out there. I’m one of them. The problem is there aren’t enough of them.

      I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tried to discuss hockey with people who label themselves “hockey fans”, only to find out they know little about the game besides their home team. They don’t watch anyone else and they don’t really follow anyone else unless its the playoffs or a special event – i.e. the Winter Classic. If their home team isn’t playing, they are watching “Pawn Stars” or some other show even though Versus might be airing an excellent game.

      Even in Canada, you can see the effect of home team syndrome. Without the Leafs, ratings can fall by more than half. In the States, hockey has a relative small following as it is, so if those “hockey fans” aren’t watching, then the ratings take a serious hit. The NHL needs those fans to supplement it’s hardcore base. All sports except the NFL are effected by this in some way. The difference is that the NHL has such a small number as its base, that it can’t afford to not have the fans tune in. MLB and NBA have more to work with so their numbers can still end up being pretty decent.


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