Television ratings up big for NHL as it prepares to negotiate new contracts with networks

By Rachel Cohen, AP
Friday, June 11, 2010

TV ratings up big for NHL in time for new deals

NEW YORK — What if there’s another Ottawa-Anaheim series?

Three years after a Stanley Cup finals game matched the lowest rating ever for a prime-time program on NBC — sports or otherwise — the NHL just had its highest-rated game in 36 years.

It’s a rare feat in a fractured era of TV viewership, when established sports often draw significantly lower ratings than just a decade ago. Wednesday’s decisive Game 6 earned a 4.7 rating, more than quadrupling the 1.1 for Game 3 of the Senators-Ducks series in 2007.

The NHL proved just how popular it can be when it gets a compelling matchup between two large-market, traditional teams. And just in time for it to negotiate new TV contracts: The deals with NBC and Versus expire after next season.

The next test for the resurgent league is how ratings will look if it gets another Stanley Cup finals matchup like the one in 2007.

“In every sport but the NFL, that’s a challenge,” NHL chief operating officer John Collins said Friday.

He’s confident the game has come a long way in three years.

“We’ve built a real base,” Collins said.

The NHL still can’t match the other major pro sports leagues in U.S. viewership. According to Nielsen, the record-low rating for a World Series game is a 6.1 and for an NBA finals game a 5.2. But the league is in far better negotiating position than it was coming out of the lockout. Collins said he’d like to see more playoff games televised nationally.

Ratings have increased significantly on Versus, but even with its growth the cable network is still only available in fewer than 65 percent of the nation’s homes, according to Nielsen. Versus declined comment on future negotiations.

In a statement announcing the Game 6 ratings, NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer said: “This has been a special year for hockey beginning with the Winter Classic continuing through the Olympics and ending with this incredibly exciting Stanley Cup final. NBC Sports is honored to have been a part of it. The players of these two proud franchises in these major markets brought an intensity to the series that contributed to this record viewership.”

will not be displayed