Alex Ovechkin (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
Viewers in Canada have been tuning out of the Stanley Cup playoffs so far this spring and that's a shame because they've been missing some pretty compelling hockey in the first round.
Having no Canadian teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs was expected to have an adverse effect on TV ratings, but even people in the industry are taken aback at how viewers north of the 49th parallel have tuned out this year’s tournament in CBC and Sportsnet.
Through the first five nights of hockey in the playoffs – from last Wednesday (April 13) through Sunday (April 17) – an average of just 513,000 viewers tuned into the 20 NHL playoff games. Compare that to last spring when there were five Canadian teams playing in the first round and an average of 1.306 million viewers tuned into the first 21 first-round games. That’s a drop of 61 percent from last season.
“Even with no Canadian teams, those are shockingly low numbers,” said one industry expert. “There were regular season games on TSN two years ago that did better than that.”
Attempts by thn.com to reach Scott Moore, president of Sportsnet and NHL properties for Rogers, were not successful.
It’s a shame because Canadians who have not tuned in have missed out on some pretty entertaining hockey. But when there is no rooting interest, the numbers are bound to suffer. Much of that, said one insider, is due to the fact that the life had been sucked out of the Canadian teams pretty much since the all-star break when it became clear that no Canadian teams would make the playoffs this season. That diminished interest early and since there were no Canadian teams that were even battling for a playoff spot down the wire, fans of those teams have tuned out and, apparently, remained tuned out.
Of course it doesn’t help that the biggest ratings driver in the country was basically out of the playoffs when it won just one of its first 10 games back in October. From that time, the only race the Toronto Maple Leafs were involved in was the one for 30th place, which is exactly where they finished.
The question now is, can the ratings improve over the course of the rest of the playoffs? Typically, interest in the playoffs diminishes after the first round, but there are some compelling possibilities. The Washington Capitals are serving notice that they mean business in this post-season and they are a compelling story. And if the Pittsburgh Penguins can get past the New York Rangers in the first round, it sets up another Alex Ovechkin-Sidney Crosby matchup in the second round, which is bound to draw in more than just the hard-core hockey fans. In the west, the St. Louis Blues are giving the defending Stanley Cup champions all they can handle and the San Jose Sharks- Los Angeles Kings matchup is proving to be the heavyweight battle that was predicted.
Each game costs about $100,000 to produce and thus far, Hockey Night in Canada has had broadcast crews on hand for four series – Los Angeles vs. San Jose, Detroit vs. Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh vs. the Rangers and Washington vs. Philadelphia. One source close to the situation said that if the Capitals close out the Flyers in four games on Wednesday night, perhaps the crew working that series would move to the series between the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers.
In terms of the bigger picture, what does it mean when just one in every 69 Canadians is regularly tuning into NHL games at the most crucial time of the year? Even with no Canadian teams, that’s a low number. Perhaps people in Canada are more fans of Canadian teams than they are of the game itself. One thing is certain, broadcasters are missing out big-time on the casual hockey fan, the one who tunes in during the playoffs because he/she has a rooting interest, and that is showing up loud and clear in the ratings numbers.