Saturday, February 19, 2005
Several recent articles have pointed out that NHL ratings have fallen behind sports such as Arena League Football, and that the current replacement programming on ESPN has more than doubled the ratings that the NHL received last year: college basketball on ESPN2 and the new poker drama Tilt are substantially outperforming the NHL's performance last year. A great article here.

It is so bad that there are serious questions as to whether ESPN will continue NHL coverage in future years.

This article points out that the NHL's ratings are not only lower than the obvious, MLB, NFL, and NBA, they are also lower than: golf, NASCAR, college basketball, the Professional Bowlers Association (that is just sad), poker (this I can understand - at least the WSOP), and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (this is sadder than the PBA... if that is possible).

This article notes that Fox regional channels are seeing disappointing ratings without the NHL, but also notes that ESPN has doubled its performance. But apparently ESPN still would like to have NHL playoffs as those ratings are generally significantly better than the regular season NHL ratings. NBC is replacing its NHL programming with dog shows, figure skating, skiing, and skateboarding -- all of which are outperforming what the NHL did on ABC last year. (Great job Bettman). And all of these replacement programing choices are cheaper to produce than the NHL.

Even before the debacle of the lockout this season, even in the midst of last season, articles noted:

According to a New York Times article this week, regular-season ratings actually have declined 21 percent during ESPN's 5-year involvement. That's not an easy thing to do when we are talking numbers that are lower than those for Arena Football League games on NBC.

According to the article, the average playoff ratings over those 5 years have fallen 39 percent, to 0.69 last season on ESPN, and 19 percent on ESPN, to 0.37. The combined rating between ESPN and ABC for the Stanley Cup finals last year was a 2.4, down from 3.6 in 2002, and around the number your average regular-season arena football game gets.

The argument often made is that, well, hockey is, like baseball, a provincial sport. Arena football, well that's global, man.

The argument doesn't skate. Fox Sports Net carries 20 teams through regional sports networks it owns or is affiliated with. The average rating among those 20 teams this season is a 1.15.

That's 1.15. ABC's ratings are a 1.3. Put them together and you've got, well, an Arena Football League game. Put those numbers in the hands of another league, even a bowling league, and I guarantee three things:

One, you would hear no noise about a work stoppage;

Two, you would fire whoever was in charge;

And three, you would make drastic changes.

My point in citing all of thes articles is this: "uncancelling" the season is a start, but there is still a ton of work to do if the NHL wants to remain more than a glorified bar league. If they don't bring in a new commissioner with a vision for the sport it won't matter if they can reach their next collective bargaining agreement or not, no one will care.
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I am an attorney in Chicago. Politically speaking, I am an indepedent that tends to lean conservative on fiscal issues and progressive on social issues. I try to remain as unbiased and open-minded as possible. Please email or post any comments, and especially criticisms. If something I say is wrong, or you disagree - let me know about it!

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