NHL playoff viewership decline: Can Sidney Crosby save the day?

By Dave Korzinski

Research Associate

To the likely dismay of playoff Angus Reid Instituterights holders at Rogers Media, what many Canadians told us here at the Angus Reid Institute was going to happen, has actually happened: there has been a precipitous decline in ratings this year during the first round of the march to the Stanley Cup. In a poll conducted in late March (28-31), our  respondents’ data suggested that 54 per cent of regular playoff watchers were less inclined to tune in, with some saying they wouldn’t be watching at all this year. And recent Numeris overnight ratings have confirmed this -the number of Canadians tuning in to the first week of the playoffs was down 61 percent from last year.

More data from  , reported over the weekend of April 23/24, sheds even more light on just how few Canadians are tuning in. The Florida Panthers – New York Islanders game 6, a double-overtime thriller from Sunday April 24 garnered 1.2 million viewers. This was the strongest showing for any sports event over the weekend. On the surface, this is a win for the broadcast. However, the average viewership for first round games last year, when the Canucks, Flames, Senators, Jets and Canadiens were participating, was 1.3 million viewers per game. And considering the deciding game between Montreal and Ottawa’s first round series last year drew viewership of 3.8 million average viewers, this enthusiasm for this year’s playoff has clearly been dampened.

Not a great round for Canadian preferences

Going into the NHL playoffs, there were a few teams that Canadians were planning to hitch their long-suffering wagons to. The Chicago Blackhawks were the clear choice as Canada’s adopted team, with almost half of Canadian hockey fans (48%) choosing them as one of the two teams they would cheer for if they had to pick a team to come out of the Western conference.

No other team even garnered 30 per cent on this question, posed about both conferences. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out so well for Chicago. A seven game series’ loss later, Canadians are left looking for another team to back.

Another Original Six staple and Canadian favourite, the Detroit Red Wings (20% support), were ousted early, and Canadians’ second choice in the West, the LA Kings (19%), lost to San Jose in six games.

Ultimately, in the eight playoff series’, only three of the preferred teams won their matchups, the Dallas Stars, Washington Capitals, and Pittsburgh Penguins. See graphic below for full matchup results:

NewBracket

Best case scenario?

What is left doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that viewership trends are going to turn around. Outside of a dream matchup between Sidney Crosby’s Penguins (26% support) and Alexander Oveckin’s Capitals (16% support), the cheering interests for the teams remaining are relatively meagre.

Interestingly, the St. Louis Blues, the most preferred Western Conference team left, are also the team with the most Canadian-born players. The Blues rostered 16 players from this country at the time our study was undertaken, tied with the now-eliminated Florida Panthers for most in the tournament.

Angus Reid Institute

The best case scenario for Canadian viewers – and by extension for Rogers – appears to be a clash between the Blues and the Penguins, the two teams with highest support in each conference. At least there’s some good news, as the Penguins (odds tied with Washington as of 04/28) and Blues are both betting favourites to represent their respective conferences in the Cup final as the second round begins.

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