After the protracted National Hockey League lockout, NBC Sports Network is reaping the Nielsen benefits from the return of the puck sport to its lineup.
NBC Sports Network scored its best-ever start with the NHL during the first quarter, netting 428,000 viewers on average over 38 games, a 34% improvement from last season, according to Nielsen data. That delivery, plus the performance of several other properties, helped NBCSN register double-digit gains in viewers in total-day, primetime and from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., excluding results from the first three weeks of the NHL season in January 2012 and the All-Star Weekend festivities.
On a total-day basis, NBCSN grew 3% in the first quarter. It was fl at from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and edged up 1% in primetime. Backing out the early-2012 NHL games and the All Star Weekend, the network’s audience rose 14% in total day, to 65,000 from 57,000, and at a like percentage in primetime, to 193,000 from 170,000. It registered 12% growth to 74,000 from 66,000 from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“There have been some negative stories out there” about the ratings, Jon Miller, president of programming at NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network, said. “We kept our heads down, knowing we have some good properties that are well produced and that the audience would find them. Patience has served us well.”
The audience for NBCSN, which was rebranded from Versus on Jan. 2, 2012, has been boosted by seven of the 10 most-watched, NHL regular-season games, including the top two, since the channel and its predecessors, OLN and Versus, began televising the NHL in 2005.
In particular, NBCSN’s 10 “Wednesday Night Rivalry” games have scored advances in household ratings and audience over last year’s exclusive Wednesday-night games with gains of 41%, to a 0.41, and 55%, to 680,000, respectively.
“This is another example of the NHL-NBC Sports Group partnership at work,” Miller said, pointing to events like the Winter Classic, All-Star Weekend and Hockey Day in America, while mentioning more announcements will be forthcoming over the next few weeks. “The NHL is the most important property to NBC Sports Network’s audience.”
Asked if hockey received a ratings boost akin to the one the National Basketball Association experienced after its lockout wiped out a portion of the 2011-12 season, Miller said the NHL has “a very passionate fan base” and that NBC, CNBC, MSNBC and the company’s various digital platforms have aggressively promoted the sport.
“There also have been great storylines with the Blackhawks [Chicago opened the season unbeaten over a record 24 games] and Penguins [Pittsburgh posted a 15-game win streak] and in Los Angeles,” where the defending Stanley Cup Kings have picked it up after a slow start.
NBC Sports Group executives were also encouraged by the performances of several other properties during the first quarter. NBCSN, which acquired multiyear rights from DirecTV to The Dan Patrick Show, the TV and syndicated radio show, has averaged 41,000 viewers weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon, a 58% jump from the year-earlier period, which largely featured field sports content.
NBCSN’s first IndyCar race of the 2013 campaign, from St Petersburg, Fla., on March 24, was the network’s highest-rated season opener ever with the circuit, delivering a 0.26 U.S. household rating, 53% higher than NBCSN’s first race last year, and a 78% bump to 388,000 viewers. It was the most-watched IndyCar race on NBCSN since the Streets of Long Beach race scored 468,000 viewers on April 15, 2012.
Major League Soccer ratings were fl at after six matches with a 0.07 rating, but viewership edged up 6% to 112,000. However, the MLS Rivalry Day match between Portland and Seattle on March 16 drew a 0.11 U.S. household rating, which was 83% above the net’s 2012 MLS regular season average, and 209,000 viewers, a 71% surge. Officials said that match ranks as NBCSN’s second-best MLS delivery behind the 259,000 for the Dallas-Portland game on July 14, 2012, excluding contests with an Olympic lead-in.
Miller said NBC Sports Group’s coverage of all 380 Barclays Premier League matches — NBCSN will present the majority of them with more programming details to come on April 16 — will serve to lift MLS ratings going forward.
“We know this is a marathon, not a sprint,” Miller said. “We have a lot of work to do, but we’re pleased so far.”