Media buyers’ primer to the NHL season
The strike is over, but will the fans come back?
January 18, 2013
After a nearly four-month lockout, the National Hockey League returns tomorrow.
The big question, and the one that matters most to media buyers, is whether the fans will be back as well.
It took years following the previous NHL lockout, which knocked out the entire 2004-’05 season, for the league to fully regain its following.
TV ratings bottomed out and the league couldn’t even secure a paid broadcast rights deal until two years ago.
This recent lockout ended quickly enough to save the season and, perhaps, save face with fans.
As the recent NFL and NBA lockouts have show, fans are usually willing to forgive a labor dispute as long as some sort of season is played, even if it’s delayed or shortened.
The NFL returned to record ratings last year after a brief lockout that didn’t cancel any games, while the NBA returned with a shortened season but very strong ratings and attendance.
On the eve of the NHL’s season opener, here’s a media buyers and planners primer on the new season.
The new collective bargaining agreement reached earlier this month is for 10 years, with an opt-out clause at eight years. Owners won a greater share of revenue from players.
The season will be truncated to 99 days. Each team will play 48 games, 34 fewer than usual.
The league was so eager to get the season started that there were no training camps, just a few days of skating. That has some worried that there will be a higher incidence of injuries this season.
In addition to the lost games, the lockout cost the league two of its best platforms for promotion, the Winter Classic, an outdoor game that airs to much hype in January, and the NHL All-Star Game.
The season will be televised by two cable networks and one broadcaster.
Like MLB, NBA and NFL, the NHL has its own branded network, NHL Network-U.S., which will air 78 games this season, largely on Thursday, Friday or Saturday. It opens with coverage of the New York Rangers at the Boston Bruins Saturday at 7 p.m.
NBC Sports Network, entering its eighth year of carrying the NHL, and parent company NBC will combine to televise 70 regular-season games this year, including 14 on the broadcaster.
Since the start of last season, NBCSN has added 5 million homes to its distribution and is now available in almost 80 million households.
TV ratings were mixed for the league last year. The postseason averaged 1.0 million total viewers across regional networks, NBC and NBCSN, according to Nielsen, the best total since the league aired on ESPN in 2002.
But the Stanley Cup finals fell to their least-watched series since 2007, averaging 3 million in six telecasts.
The 2010 series was the most watched since the NHL lockout, averaging 5.1 million viewers.
With the lockout, NBCSN has seen ratings fall this winter, airing lots of filler in the place of its usual hockey games. December primetime viewership plummeted by 63 percent, to an average 74,000.
The NHL signed a new 10-deal with NBC in 2010 worth $2 billion. It increased the number of nationally televised games from 100 to 77, though obviously the lockout reduced that number this year, and added a Friday after Thanksgiving game to NBC’s lineup.
At the time, the league said hockey ratings had shot up by 84 percent over the previous four seasons.
This year the regular season will end April 27, three weeks later than usual. The Stanley Cup playoffs could last until June 28, if the finals go to seven games.
And the NHL draft will take place two days later, on June 30.
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