NHL Ratings Roundup: Bruins-Flyers Finale Leads to Record Audiences

The Nielsen ratings for this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs have logged huge upticks thus far. Versus’s combined viewership for the first two rounds of the playoffs is the league’s highest since 1994, when the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup. NBC has also seen a ratings boost, with six telecasts ahead 4% to a 1.71 million average.

This was highlighted by NESN’s 13.2 household rating in the Boston market for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers. This was the second-highest Bruins-game rating in the network’s 26-year history (after the 14.2 for 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinal Game 7). In addition, the game was the No. 1-rated program on any Boston network on May 14 and topped every measurable demographic, including men 18-34 (14.1), men 25-54 (12.6), adults 18-49 (10.4), and women 25-54 (7.1).

The Flyers’ historic comeback from a 3-0 deficit in the series also provided Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia with massive ratings. Game 7 was the most watched Flyers game in the network’s history, averaging an 11.6 rating (345,000 households) and beating the previous-high 10.1 rating set during Game 6 on May 12. In the second round, CSN Philadelphia aired the final three games of the series, with those games averaging a 9.6 rating (286,000 households) and besting by 25% the average rating of 7.7 (229,000 households) for 2008’s Eastern Conference Finals, for which CSN Philadelphia also aired three games.

Viewership in Canada has also skyrocketed: CBC is up 65% (2.66 million viewer average), TSN is up 78% (1.06 million viewer average), and RDS is up 90% (685,000 viewer average).

Although spirits are high with the NHL and its TV partners, there is some concern that elimination of the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins and the surprising run of the Montreal Canadiens could result in lower ratings for the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals.

While the average viewership on Versus is not overwhelming (about one-fifth of that for the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs on TNT and ESPN), it is up 25% from last year and more than double the viewership for those rounds in Versus’s first post-season, in 2006.

The big question now is how this ratings increase will affect the upcoming U.S.-TV-rights negotiations. Both Versus’s multiyear deal and NBC’s two-year revenue-sharing agreement conclude with the 2010-11 season.

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