The deplorable violence in Vancouver aside, Canadians once again proved their love for the puck sport with the CBC setting myriad viewership records with its coverage of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
Stateside, the ratings were better than expected as well, fueled by a big run-up for Boston’s Game 7 blanking that denied the Nielsen-unfriendly Canucks their first Cup ever and returned the Lord Stanley trophy to Beantown for the first time since Bobby Orr skated with the 35-pound piece of hardware in 1972.
North of the border, the CBC averaged 8.76 million watchers on June 15 with the Canucks’ 4-0 Game 7 loss — its best ever score for an NHL contest and second overall behind the 8.96 million for the 2002 Olympic men’s gold medal game in Salt Lake City when Canada topped the U.S.
Adding in the 1.04 million on French-language network RDS and NBC’s 8.54 million for NBC, 2011’s ultimate skate-off netted an average of 18.3 million watchers, the most ever in North America, according to the NHL.
For those keeping score at home, Canada counted 13.6 million TV households during the 2010-11 TV season, versus 115.9 million in the U.S., so America has the potential for just a bit of a home ice advantage.
Buoyed by the Game 7 delivery — which represented a 148% jump over the 3.53 million for Pittsburgh-Detroit in 2009, the last Stanley Cup Final series to go the distance — CBC averaged a best-ever 6.15 million viewers for the Bruins-Canucks campaign. That marked a 98% jump over the 3.1 million for the six-game Chicago-Philly clash in 2010 and a 186% surge for the Penguins’ championship run over the Red Wings, which played before 2.15 million on average.
Back in the U.S., the Peacock garnered 8.54 million watchers with its Game 7 coverage - the largest audience since NBC’s 9.41 million for Game 6 of Montreal-Chicago way back on May 10, 1973 (see top 10 list below)!
The June 15 telecast also ticked past the 8.28 million for Chicago’s first Cup clincher since 1961 on June 9, 2010 over the Flyers. That helped boost NBC’s five-game average audience to 5.31 million, the best for a network Stanley Cup Final featuring a Canadian team in 38 years — 7.4 million for three games in 1973 on NBC. Nevertheless, it was 13.2% below the 6.1 million NBC averaged for four Stanley Cup Final contests last year.
Factoring Versus’ Cup coverage into the mix - the cable network presented Games 3 and 4, averaging 2.7 million, down 19.9% from 3.37 million in 2010 - the corporate teammates collected 4.6 million viewers, an 11% decline from 5.17 million last year.
Despite the seven games, networks on both sides of the border no doubt had their viewership scores hampered by Boston’s quartet of wins — a combined 21-3 thrashing. Until Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas made sure the Cup was coming back to Beantown, the Canucks were making like the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates against the New York Yankees.
Still, Bruins-Canucks crushed the 3.3 million watchers for ABC and ESPN’s coverage of the 2004 series between Tampa Bay and Calgary by 39% in becoming the most-watched combined network/cable Stanley Cup Final involving a team from north of the border. Moreover, it dwarfed the last clash of this kind: the 2007 series matching Ottawa and Anaheim, which averaged 1.76 million watchers on NBC/Versus by 161%.
In the final year of its current deal with the NHL, Versus skated before the second most-watched postseason on cable in nine years, trailing only its 2010 playoff performance.
That delivery should grow higher with the 2012 playoffs, when Versus, or whatever its new moniker will bear, gains second-round exclusivity at the expense of the regional sports networks. Hence, during the first year of NBC/Versus’ new 10-year, $2 billion rights deal with the NHL, the Comcast linemates will establish a new Nielsen benchmark to gauge the balance of their contract.
MOST-WATCHED STANLEY CUP FINAL GAMES IN U.S. (1966-2011):
1. 5/18/71, Montreal-Chicago - Game 7, 12.41 million, CBS
2. 5/11/72, Boston-NY Rangers - Game 6, 10.93 million, CBS
3. 5/10/73, Montreal-Chicago - Game 6, 9.41 million, NBC
4. 6/15/11, Boston-Vancouver - Game 7, 8.54 million, NBC
5. 4/30/72, NY Rangers-Boston - Game 1, 8.51 million, CBS
6. 5/12/74, Boston-Philadelphia - Game 3, 8.30 million, NBC
7. 6/9/10, Chicago-Philadelphia - Game 6, 8.28 million, NBC
8. 5/7/72, Boston-NY Rangers - Game 4, 8.26 million, CBS
9. 6/12/09, Pittsburgh-Detroit - Game 7, 7.99 million, NBC
10. 5/19/74, Boston-Philadelphia - Game 6, 7.85 million, NBC
Source: Nielsen and NBC