Going for 1 in 6 in sports isn’t good. But for executives on Manhattan’s Avenue of the Americas, Rockefeller Center and Penn Plaza, that ratio wasn’t just good, it was great on April 26. Especially when an O for 6 would have meant Ottawa.
Had the New York Rangers and netminder Henrik Lundqvist not staved off the Senators’ 2-1 at Madison Square Garden in Game 7 on Thursday, the NBC Sports Group in the first of its 10-year, $2 billion deal with the National Hockey League would have provided exclusive second round coverage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, sans any Original Six members.
While neither of the north of the border and Nielsen-challenged clubs — the miserable Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadians, North America’s biggest winning franchise this side of the New York Yankees — made the 2012 playoff grade to begin with, three other members failed in the first round. Hockeytown’s favorites, the Detroit Red Wings, went out in five versus the Nashville Predators, while the Chicago Blackhawks, the 2010 Cup kings, were bitten by the Phoenix Coyotes in six.
On Wednesday, the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins lost Game 7 on home ice in OT to the Washington Capitals. In a league first, every game in the series was decided by one goal. The taut action reached a crescendo with TV watchers. NESN netted a new Nielsen record with a 19.6 rating in the Boston DMA on April 25, while Comcast SportsNet posted an 8.01 in Washington, the club’s second-best performance in DC, and broke the Caps’ mark in Baltimore with a 3.72. Nationally, NBC Sports Network scored the top NHL Conference Quarterfinal game on cable in 12 years with 1.32 million watchers.
The Nielsen icing of Detroit, Chicago and Boston was exacerbated by the Keystone State confrontation that left Sid The Kid and the popular Pittsburgh Penguins on the wrong side of a wild series with Comcast’s preferred NHL club, the Philadelphia Flyers. Either way, that match-up was bound to hurt the NHL long-term Nielsens.
Last year’s Stanley Cup finalist, this year’s President Trophy winners and the people-meter free Vancouver Canucks also joined the opening-round exodus at the skates of the Los Angeles Kings.
Still, NBC Sports Group’s prospects would have taken a further hit without the Rangers. Now the Broadway Blue Shirts will entertain Alex Ovechkin’s Capitals, while the Flyers will engage Marty Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils, who needed OT in Game 6 and Adam Henrique goal 3:47 into the second extra session in Game 7, to drive an 1-95 series with Philly.
Out west, the news isn’t nearly as good. Nashville-Phoenix is small market and profile (at least the Coyotes have yet to return to Canada). LA-St. Louis — the Blues dispatched the perennial postseason underachievers San Jose Sharks in five — is much more compelling from a DMA perspective, but still doesn’ t carry the pedigree, or support of the viewers/fans in Detroit and Chicago.
Although the NHL’s new second-round nationally exclusive windows — mirroring to the NBA’s take-out of the regional sports networks — should yield record Nielsens, the ratings lamp would have shone brighter if more Original Six members were still skating.