Tuesday, December 4, 2007

ESPN To Carry The NHL Again?

Andy Strickland reports a rumor that ESPN will resume coverage of the NHL, including the playoffs, next year taking over for NBC:

Expect the NHL to announce that Versus will remain the cable carrier for NHL games heading into next season. A mutual option must be agreed upon by the January 1st 2008 deadline. No official agreement has been made but sources tell me not to expect the NHL and Comcast to part ways.

You can also expect to hear an announcement from the NHL that either ESPN or ESPN 2 will replace NBC and begin televising games next season. Sources tell me that the news is looking very positive for ESPN.

The biggest thing for ESPN is that they once again are televising the Stanley Cup playoffs and more importantly the finals.

An announcement will likely come sometime during this season’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

Potentially good news.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

New Time Warner Channels

In addition to the NHL Network, Time Warner is adding Versus HD.

On October 31st, customers will be able to watch the NHL Network on Channel 171 and Versus HD on Channel 771.

The NHL Network launched in the U.S. on October 1st. Fans can watch live NHL games, (subject to local blackout restrictions) highights and other league programming on the network. They'll also be able to enjoy sporting events, including NHL Hockey, in high definition on Versus HD.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Time Warner To Add NHL Network in Buffalo

After purchasing the rights to carry NHL Network nationally, Time Warner's Buffalo division has announced they will be adding the channel in the near future despite speculation that they would not.

Stay tuned for The NHL Network on Time Warner. Robin Wolfgang, the spokesperson for the cable company, said today the channel will be added to the system shortly.

"We know our customers like hockey and it seemed like a good option," said Wolfgang.

The NHL Network is carrying 40 games this season, including three involving the Buffalo Sabres. Two of the three games are also on Versus and the third is on local rights-holder MSG. The NHL Network feed will be blacked out here for those games.

It may cost subscribers more money to get the channel here. If subscribers already get T-W's sports and movie package for $5 monthly, they will continue to pay that rate, Wolfgang said.

However, T-W is creating separate sports and movie tiers, with each costing $4 monthly, Wolfgang said. New subscribers to each tier can choose to pay $4 for one tier or $8 for both, Wolfgang said.

It only made sense to add the channel in the NHL's most successful American TV market.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Time Warner to Carry NHL Network

Time Warner Cable has purchased the rights to broadcast the NHL Network, which includes 50 NHL games carried in HD. The TW employee I spoke to said it would be added to the digital sports tier within the next week. It's uncertain whether the HD games will be picked up in Buffalo, so contacting Buffalo Time Warner can only help. A TW spokesman on the issue:
Mark Harrad, a Time Warner Cable spokesman, told TVPredictions.com last night that it's up to each local Time Warner operator to determine whether to air the NHL Network's high-def broadcasts.

"We have the rights to offer their HD content. It will depend on the individual divisions, if they want to devote the bandwidth to carry these games," Harrad said.

Additionally, MSG will be showing Sabres home games in HD on channel 700 in the Buffalo area.

It's almost as if Time Warner is pretending they care...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

MSNBC On Sabres TV Revenue

There's been a lot of speculation about exactly how much money the Sabres deal with MSG brings in the team. MSNBC, in an article about the franchise's turnaround off the ice, provided a bit of insight, but along the lines of what we already knew:

Golisano & Co. have signed a local TV deal with MSG Network through the 2016-2017 season believed to be in the high seven figures annually, in which the Sabres bring in money by selling advertising and where they control production (whose costs they bear). Under previous owner John Rigas, founder of cable firm Adelphia Communications, the team’s broadcast territory through Empire Sports Network barely made a dent in the Empire State. Today, their games can be seen as far away as Albany, helping to mint new fans.

Obviously, with the Sabres generating income by selling advertising, the exact figure won't come out barring a major leak from someone in the know. That said, Larry Quinn admitted that the blunder causing MSG's ratings numbers to be underreported cost the team a significant amount of advertising revenue last year. It's unknown exactly how widespread the underreporting was, but it's safe to say the ratings were artificially low by 30-50%. This season will be the first time advertisers are paying for the full rating prowess that the Sabres bring. They're the top rated cable show in Buffalo reaching prime demographics.

Since we know that Empire's rights fee was $9.5 million annually, I'd be surprised if the Sabres don't pull in well over $10 million from their local TV contract alone for the 2007-2008 season.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Winter Classic - 42,000 Tickets Sold in 25 Minutes

Everyone seems to be outraged about the ticket situation for the New Year's Day AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic, which we now know will be the highest attended game in NHL history. The "average Joe" segment is outraged that so few tickets were available to die hard fans, Bills season ticket holders are outraged that they had no priority rights to purchase ducats, Pittsburgh fans are outraged that Buffalo fans hacked their highly encrypted password 'Crosby' and bought up their block, Sabres season ticket holders are outraged that there's only 1 ticket on average set aside for them as "extras", and outrage has been set aside for mass confusion from everyone in regards to the bizarre decision to give Toronto Blue Jays season ticket holders preference.

The bottom line, which seems to be being missed by nearly everyone, is that Buffalo sold all 42,000 available tickets in 25 minutes. That figure doesn't even include the 30,000 tickets reserved for Sabres season ticket holders. This is incredible display by the most rabid NHL fan base in the United States. For a league that takes more than it's fair share of flak, this is a fantastic way to show the NHL is not nearly as dead as advertised. Given the right market, the right amount of exposure, and competent marketing, the NHL is capable of hosting a successful event on a very busy sports day (traditionally dominated by college football) because they have the most passionate group of fans in professional sports.

The national ratings will be poor. I'd be highly surprised if it even cracks a 2.0. Don't be fooled by the ratings though, this level of interest is a great sign for hockey.

The NHL released the following statement:
Demonstrating once again that our fans are the most passionate in sports, more than 42,000 tickets to the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic were sold in the first 30 minutes of availability this morning. Due to the overwhelming demand, plus our commitment to Sabres and Penguins season ticket holders, the Buffalo Bills and sponsors of the event, we are currently sold out. If additional tickets become available, we'll release the information at a later date.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sabres Home Games To Be in HD

Tim Graham reports that Sabres home games on MSG will be broadcast in high definition.

So I had the chance to ask around at the arena today, and learned the Sabres will televise their home games only in HD. Although road games will remain in standard definition for now, more and more away dates will be upgraded in future seasons.

Now we wait on Time Warner.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Sabres Appear Seven Times on Versus

Versus released its schedule for the upcoming NHL season and there is a noticeable Buffalo presence. Here are the games:

Oct. 15 – 7:00 Toronto vs. Buffalo

Nov. 26 – 7:00 Buffalo vs. Washington

Dec. 10 – 7:00 Boston vs. Buffalo

Jan. 29 – 7:30 Buffalo vs. Tampa Bay

Feb. 25 – 7:00 Philadelphia vs. Buffalo

Mar. 4 – 7:00 Buffalo vs. Philadelphia

Mar. 10 – 7:00 NY Rangers vs. Buffalo

Toronto is an interesting choice and should garner a huge rating locally. Fairly surprising that a Penguins/Sabres tilt isn't on tap.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sabres To Host Outdoor Game

It has been widely speculated that the Sabres will host the "Ice Bowl" on New Year's Day at Ralph Wilson Stadium which will be televised on NBC. Multiple sources including the local NBC affiliate, WGR550, and the Buffalo News have indicated that the game will be a go so long as a few logistical issues get worked out in the near future. NBC released its "flex schedule" for the upcoming season this afternoon which allows it to choose between different games depending on how the particular match up looks at the time. The choices on January 1st? Pittsburgh @ Buffalo or the Penguins visiting the Sabres. It's the only day on the schedule without another option, so it's looking like the outdoor game is a done deal.

It will be interesting to see the rating as half the city will be in attendance. That said, it will be a major event for Buffalo and will likely still pull a big number.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Cup Clincher Pulls Big Rating

The Ducks Stanley Cup clinching victory over the Ottawa Senators drew a big rating in Buffalo. From Alan Pergament:

Buffalo might be the only market in America that gets higher ratings for the Stanley Cup finals than the NBA Finals on ABC despite the hype brought about by James’ legendary performance. The ratings in Buffalo for the Stanley Cup finals were five to 10 times the national ratings. Anaheim’s seriesclinching victory had an 11.7 rating here, about five times the national overnight rating.

The game drew a 2.5 rating nationally. The LA market peaked at an impressive (relatively) 10.4 figure. The overall average was a 6.0 (12 share) which, after taking the West Coast time zone issues into account, isn't that bad. Buffalo was in all likelihood the highest rated American market for all 5 games.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Lowest Rated Show Ever

Bettman probably won't be pleased with this. Game 3 managed to tie a West Wing rerun for the worst rating for a prime-time show ever on NBC.

Of course, that ignores the fact that Canada has a vested interest in the series and the NHL does get the shaft in terms of having 20% of its markets ignored. Cities with teams are almost always more interested in league games. (See: the NBA's popularity in Buffalo) The game drew 2,553,000 viewers on CBC and an additional 646,000 viewers on RDS (Quebec). Canada likes to do things differently (zed, centre, favourite, metric system, twooneys) and puts their figures in terms of total viewers and not households. Some quick math tells me that if Canadians counted towards American ratings Game 3 would have garnered a 3.31 rating, which is still pretty pathetic.

As bad as it sounds, NBC is still making money on the contract. Then again the contract states NBC doesn't pay anything unless they make money. The bottom line is the NHL will never draw a huge rights fee that buoys the other major pro sports leagues unless something drastically changes.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Stanley Cup Finals Game 1

One would think that the LA area, it's low level of NHL interest notwithstanding, would have the highest ratings for the Stanley Cup Finals considering Anaheim is the lone American market remaining. One would be wrong. Buffalo was the top rated US market by a fairly large margin. Selected cities from the .72 national figure:

Buffalo: 3.9
Denver: 2.2
Pittsburgh: 2.0
Los Angeles: 1.7
Chicago: 0.7
Boston: 0.6
New York: 0.3

Yeah, that's pretty bad all around. Let's hope the NBC games crack a 2.0. Ok, a 1.0.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Ottawa Series: Games 3-5

A disappointing series on the ice was also disappointing in the ratings and the two are obviously related. Alan Pergament reports on the final three games of the Sabres season:

The Versus coverage is dominating CBC’s coverage in the ratings even though Amherst resident Harry Neale is a CBC analyst and Versus carries the game on a three- to five-second delay. The Sabres’ victory Wednesday had a 20.8 rating on Versus and a 4.5 on CBC for a combined 25.3. The Sabres’ loss Monday had a 17.4 rating on Versus and a 4.5 on CBC for a combined 21.9.

The Sabres final playoff game had a combined rating of 28.4 on NBC (26.8) and CBC (1.8). One Sabres game on NBC had a 30 rating, but generally, the national playoff games averaged in the low to mid-20s here.

Combined final totals for the ECF (US National broadcast in parentheses, all games on CBC additionally):

Game 1 (VS): 23.8
Game 2 (VS): 27.6
Game 3 (VS): 21.9
Game 4 (VS): 25.3
Game 5 (NBC): 28.4

Obviously, those are great numbers relatively speaking, but there wasn't an increase from the round 2 figures. In fact, the two highest rated Sabres games this season were Games 3 and 6 of the NY Ranger series.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Ottawa/Buffalo: Games 1 and 2

All of the games in the 3rd round are nationally televised and Versus had Games 1 and 2. Both games garnered respectable figures, but the strong Thursday night network lineup hurt the game 1 number:

Ottawa’s 5-2 victory in the first game of the series Thursday sure put a dent into the Thursday night ratings for local prime time favorites, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “CSI.” “CSI” scored a 14.8, and “Grey’s” had a 13.2 rating. They both typically get ratings in the 18-20 range. Of course, ABC repeats “Grey’s” on Fridays, and both shows are heavily DVRed. The Sabre game had a combined 23.8 rating on Versus and CBC.

That broke down to a 19.9 for Versus and a 3.9 for CBC. Game 2 was slightly higher:

After all, the game had a combined 27.6 rating on Versus (21.3) and CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada” (6.3), so there were a lot of potential viewers available for extensive postgame coverage.

Good numbers, but not as high as the Rangers series.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Sabres Close Out Round 2 With a Bang

Alan Pergament reports on the rating for the series clincher against the Rangers on NBC:

The Sabres’ clinching victory on Sunday afternoon scored a 32.6 rating and 60 share on WGRZ-TV, which was 2.6 points higher than the Sabres overtime loss in Game Three of the series from Madison Square Garden.

The 60 share is eye-opening. Al Trautwig, the Rangers postgame host on MSG, told Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier Sunday afternoon that the Sabres get a 40 share for TV games, which he called incredible for hockey. A 60 share is beyond incredible for hockey. The first NBC game in the series got shares in the 50s and 60s in Buffalo. The 60 share means that 60 percent of the sets in use in Buffalo on Sunday afternoon were watching the game.

Speaking of incredible, the Sabres’ miracle finish Friday only averaged a 9.5 rating on MSG. That’s about 30 percent of what Channel 2 had for Game Six, which gives MSG further ammunition for the theory that its ratings are severely underreported.

The final ratings for round two are as follows:

Game 1 (VS): 25.3
Game 2 (MSG): 11.0
Game 3 (NBC): 29.8
Game 4 (VS): 24.8
Game 5 (MSG): 9.5
Game 6 (NBC): 32.6

Luckily (at least from a ratings standpoint), MSG is done for the year so there won't be any more underreporting issues.

Time Warner Cable Adds VS HD

Buffalo Business First reports that Time Warner will be temporarily adding Versus in HD to local digital packages:

Time Warner Cable said Tuesday it will temporarily add Versus HD to its digital lineup just as the Buffalo Sabres ready for another round in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Subscribers in the Buffalo market will find Versus HD programming on channel 708 starting May 10 through the conclusion of the National Hockey League post season. Versus will remain available on Channel 71 to standard package customers after the temporary viewing ends.

Versus, the cable TV rightsholder for the NHL in the U.S., will broadcast games one, two, three, four, six and seven of the Eastern Conference finals between the Sabres and Ottawa Senators as well as the Western Conference finals between the Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks. NBC will televise the fifth game in each series.

The Sabres-Senators best-of-seven series begins Thursday night at HSBC Arena. Cable viewers in the Buffalo market will also be able to see the entire series on the CBC from Canada.

Assuming they don't continue to accidentally blackout half of the games, this is great for Sabres fans.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Game 4: Another Huge Rating

Another nationally televised game means another gigantic rating for the Buffalo Sabres. The controversial loss drew a 24.8 local rating on Versus which is nearly 160,000 households. Rangers fans weren't nearly as interested as the game only earned a 1.5 rating in New York City. A rating in the mid-20's is almost being taken for granted, but this quote from the President of Versus Gavin Harvey in The New York Times shows how significant it really is:

The Buffalo fans are a force of nature. We crushed ‘American Idol’ up there.

Just to put the final nail in the coffin of the 'underreported' debate:

Game 1 (VS): 25.3
Game 2 (MSG): 11.0
Game 3 (NBC): 29.8
Game 4 (VS): 24.8

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

MSG Being Underreported?

I've been fairly convinced that MSG's ratings totals haven't been accurate for some time now, dating back to the Ottawa re-match game in February. It didn't make any sense to me that almost twice as many Buffalonians wanted to watch a random game on Versus than the most hyped contest of the season. My theory picked up steam as the late-season numbers came in, was strengthened by the low ratings for the Islanders series, and essentially proved by the rating for game 2 (11.0 combined) of the Rangers series.

Alan Pergament of The Buffalo News has said the following in the past few weeks:

"The Versus rating appears to confirm what local researchers have suggested — that the Sabres ratings on MSG have been badly underreported."

"One local researcher also believes MSG’s ratings have been artificially low all season."

"The discrepancy should further bolster the argument that the audience for Sabres on MSG this season has been severely underreported."

Now I doubt I'm the local researcher in question as this is merely a hobby for me, so there is a pretty strong chance that someone else (with real sources) is coming to the same conclusion. Here's some analysis:

The Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo comparison. This is a good starting point because both of the match-ups between the clubs were on Versus as was the NHL All-Star Game.

Both cities reportedly averaged a 5.2 rating (Buffalo's rating increases to a 7.0 after factoring in nationally televised games). I have no reason to believe that Buffalo fans are more apt to tune into nationally televised games than Pittsburgh fans. Since both clubs supposedly had equal ratings for their local games (on MSG and FSN Pittsburgh respectively), one would assume that the March 13th and April 3rd meetings on Versus would have very similar local ratings. They didn't.

3/13 (PIT): 6.0 (up 15% from FSN average)
3/13 (BUF): 12.0 (up 130% from MSG average)

4/3 (PIT): 6.1 (up 17% from FSN average)
4/3 (BUF): 12.2 (up 135% from MSG average)

All-Star Game (PIT): 2.8
All-Star Game (BUF): 9.8 (7.1 VS + 2.7 CBC)

It makes sense to have a slight increase for nationally televised games. Pittsburgh/Buffalo is an exciting match-up between two of the Eastern Conference's top teams. It doesn't makes sense to see a rating more than twice of what MSG regularly gets. An argument could be made that the Sabres had such a high rating for the All-Star game because they had a league high 3 starters, but VS loves Sidney Crosby and talks about him at every chance (it's not nicknamed Versids for nothing) so I doubt it had much of an impact.

It becomes most obvious when evaluating the payoff ratings.

A meaningless regular season game gets a 16.4 rating, but the first round averages slightly over than 10?

Game 1 (VS) of the 2nd round gets a 25.3 and Game 3 (NBC) gets a 29.8, but Game 2 (MSG) gets an 11.0? There's only one explanation. MSG's ratings figures are significantly flawed.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Game 3 Draws Big Rating in Buffalo

As was noted yesterday, the game peaked over 40.0 in double OT, but the overall rating is impressive as well. NBC got a 29.8 rating (almost 200,000 households) in Buffalo. The game didn't garner much attention in NY (1.8 rating) and was beaten in the NYC area by NASCAR and a not so epic golf tournament.

Apparently the Barbaro folks were none too pleased with the Rangers/Sabres game usurping the documentary on the legendary gluestick. Combine the outrage of horse lovers everywhere and the dismal national ratings for the NHL in America and you have to wonder if NBC will make the decision to move playoff overtimes to Versus or one of NBC's cable channels in the future.

Monday, April 30, 2007

6:00 PM, Game 3 Hit's 40 in Buffalo

Mike and the Mad Dog reported on WFAN radio that at 6:00 PM Game 3 of the Rangers/Sabres series on NBC hit a 40.0 local rating in Buffalo while doing a 4.0 in the NYC area. Nationally, the game drew a 1.3 rating and 3 share.

Full ratings details to come later.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Regular Season Average & Playoff Ratings

Alan Pergament of the Buffalo News reports on what can only be described as gigantic ratings for the round 2 opener against the NY Rangers on VS. Also of note, the final game of the Islanders series and the final regular season average:

The game had a 25.2 rating, which is about 2 1/2 times what the Sabres’ first-round series with the New York Islanders averaged on MSG even though it was competing with a two-hour edition of “American Idol” (15.9).

The Sabres’ clinching victory over the Islanders on April 20 had only a 9.3 rating, which was lower than the average of the previous four games. The Sabres averaged a 7.0 rating during the regular season, up about 35 percent from the 5.2 they averaged a year ago.

Pergament also addresses the theory that ratings on MSG are being underreported. I've been saying this since February, but the 25.2 VS rating compared to the 9.3 MSG rating seems to finalize that debate.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Round 2 TV Schedule

The Sabres officially announced the Round two schedule this afternoon:

Wednesday, April 25 -- 7:00 p.m.-- Buffalo -- Versus
Friday, April 27 -- 7:00 p.m.-- Buffalo -- MSG
Sunday, April 29 -- 2:00 p.m. -- New York -- NBC
Tuesday, May 1 -- 7:00 p.m. -- New York -- Versus
* Friday, May 4 -- 7:00 p.m. -- Buffalo -- MSG
* Sunday, May 6 -- 2:00 p.m. -- New York -- NBC
* Tuesday, May 8 -- 7:00 p.m. -- Buffalo -- MSG
* If necessary

Versus and NBC will have exclusive rights to Games 1, 3, 4, and 6. Versus wants to capitalize on the huge draw that is a Sabres/Rangers match-up so they made sure to exercise their right to two games of exclusivity on games that will definitely be played. They'll surely be regretting that decision if the series goes to 7 games.

CBC will, in all likelihood, cover the series if Vancouver loses to Dallas in tonight's Game 7. If Vancouver advances, TSN will broadcast Round 2 in Canada.

For American fans outside of the local market, all games will be nationally televised.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ratings for Round 1 Low

Low is a relative term, but the average rating for the first four playoff games has to be considered a disappointment if the figures are accurate. From Alan Pergament's weekly column:

Perhaps fan overconfidence has led to the surprisingly low ratings for the first four games of the series on MSG, the only channel carrying them. They averaged about a 10.5 rating. That’s about half of what “American Idol” gets and significantly lower than many popular network series.

Obviously, the question that comes to mind is 'why are playoff games getting lower ratings than regular season games?' and the answer may be an inaccuracy in ratings for games aired on MSG. I speculated that something was strange with the MSG ratings in my last post. Pergament may agree:

Of course, the 10.5 rating would be impressive in most cities and the rating doesn’t take into account all the fans who are watching in sports bars. One local researcher also believes MSG’s ratings have been artificially low all season.

It doesn't make sense for Buffalo to have double the ratings Pittsburgh does for Sabre/Penguins matchups on VS, triple the rating for the All-Star game, and identical ratings for regular season local games. VS has the option to pick up two games exclusively in the second round and you can bet that the potential Sabres/Rangers series would be their top choice. I fully expect ratings for these games to be in the upper 20's.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Regular Season Totals

The Sports Business Journal (which unfortunately requires a subscription) listed some final regular season local ratings across the league. Numbers were down in many markets.

Detroit 2006-2007: 3.5
Detroit 2005-2006: 4.5
Detroit 2003-2004: 5.9

Boston 2006-2007: 1.6
Boston 2005-2006: 2.1
Boston 2003-2004: 2.4

Overall, 11 of the 24 U.S. markets saw local rating decreases and 9 markets were steady. Buffalo was one of 4 American markets to see a ratings increase.

The SBJ curiously claimed that the best local ratings in the U.S. were in Buffalo and Pittsburgh. That much is obvious and has been so for the entire season, but it's the actual figure that's surprising. They claim that Buffalo and Pittsburgh both finished the season with a 5.2 rating.

Considering the fact that as of February 6th, MSG was averaging a 5.6 and the huge ratings for nationally televised games (see below) down the stretch, I find that number hard to believe. Granted, nationally televised games do draw more viewers than a typical MSG game, but these figures are evidence of the obviously heightened interest level around Buffalo as the playoffs drew near. It wouldn't be the first time that a national media outlet has made a mistake about ratings on non-FSN channels so we'll have to wait and see what our local researchers say.

12.0 (Buffalo at Pittsburgh, March 13th, VS)
12.2 (Buffalo at Pittsburgh, April 3rd, VS)
16.4 (Buffalo at Philadelphia, April 8th, NBC)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Huge Ratings For Meaningless Finale

The Sabres sole regular season appearance on NBC was effectively meaningless after Buffalo defeated Washington the day before to wrap up the Presidents Trophy, but it drew like a network prime-time hit. From The Buffalo News:

After all, the Sabres’ meaningless loss to the Philadelphia Flyers’ Sunday afternoon averaged a 16.4 rating and 36 share on Channel 2, the local NBC affiliate. To put that in perspective, the Easter Sunday game had higher local ratings than every network series in prime time Sunday night and almost every program all week.

Playoff ratings are expected to be even higher:

The Sabres can be expected to get ratings in the 20s on — and maybe even the 30s — during their first-round series with the New York Islanders. The series will be televised in its entirety on MSG. Versus, the NHL’s national cable partner, will be carrying five of the seven possible games but it will be blacked out here.

Obviously, the ratings for the entire season have been fantastic and no market in the NHL came remotely close to matching Buffalo's TV success. MSG is capitalizing on the team's drawing power by now offering a half-hour pre-game special as well as extended post-game coverage.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Playoff Broadcast Schedule

Game 1: MSG, TSN
Game 2: MSG, Versus, TSN
Game 3: MSG, Versus, TSN
Game 4: MSG, Versus, TSN
Game 5: MSG, Versus, TSN
Game 6: MSG, Versus, TSN
Game 7: MSG, TSN

Versus will be blacked out locally as MSG gets preference for the first two rounds. Versus gets exclusivity for the Conference Finals and the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals. NBC can usurp MSG for the first two rounds (no Sabres/Isles games are scheduled for NBC) and also has the final five games of the Cup Finals.

Keep in mind that the schedules are subject to change based on the longetivity of the series. For non-local Sabre fans, if the Isles push Buffalo to game 7, Versus will likely pick it up.

Ratings Strong As Playoffs Arrive

Alan Pergament of the Buffalo News reports that the Sabres Eastern Conference clinching victory over Pittsburgh drew a very good rating on Versus:
NBC has to be impressed by Buffalo’s TV ratings. The Sabres’ win over Pittsburgh Tuesday to clinch the Eastern Conference title had an incredibly strong 12.2 rating here on Versus even though it was competing for separate hours with “American Idol” (16.9) and “Dancing with the Stars” (11.4).
It will be interesting to see if the first round match-up with the Islanders can crack a 20.0 local average. Versus will try to get Buffalo on the air as much as it can both before and after its exclusive rights kick in.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The NHL Outdraws the NBA

You wouldn't realize it based on exposure from ESPN or other national outlets, but the NBA's ratings aren't much more impressive than the much maligned NHL ratings. In fact, William Houston from The Globe And Mail reports that the NHL on NBC drew more viewers than the NBA on ABC on Sunday, March 25th:

Each network earned a 1.0 rating (percentage of households tuned in), but NBC pulled in a larger audience share (percentage of time that people spent watching the telecast), 3 compared with 2. In total viewership, NBC outdrew ABC 1.31 million to 1.26 million.

Granted, the NBA game was running against college basketball, but it's also important to note that the NHL only has 24 league markets that are factored into the ratings whereas the NBA has 29. Obviously, cities with teams are much more likely to tune in as is evidenced by paltry NBA ratings in Buffalo.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

CBC and NBC Extend NHL Deals

The NHL announced extensions with their national television broadcast networks in both Canada and the United States. The CBC deal is believed to be worth $85 million USD meaning each team will receive roughly an extra million dollars in shared revenue more than under the old deal. Financial details of the NBC package were not available. Some highlights:

Despite paying more, the CBC is getting slightly less. It will air fewer Maple Leafs games in the regular season, 23 compared with the current 28. In the playoffs, the CBC will own the rights to the first two series involving Canadian teams. But if there's a third, it will go to TSN. In the current deal, the CBC owns all Canadian series rights. Although TSN's new cable deal with the NHL is not completed, it appears to have achieved its two main goals: more regular-season Leafs games nationally and additional Canadian content in the postseason.

NBC will be able to select from a minimum of three games scheduled on Sunday afternoons. Thirteen days prior to the scheduled games, NBC, in conjunction with the NHL, will select one of those games as the "Game of the Week" to be broadcast during the NBC window. The other two games will revert back to the team's regional carrier (not to be televised during NBC's broadcast window).

Four Sabres/Leafs tilts were featured nationally on Hockey Night in Canada this year and the season finale against the Flyers will be covered by NBC.

Friday, March 23, 2007

That Didn't Last Long

The regular season ratings record on Versus falls in just one week. From Kuklas Korner:

Versus earned a 0.4 cable Nielsen rating for Monday night’s Rangers-Penguins game, making it the most-watched NHL regular-season telecast ever for the network and the biggest Monday 7:00-9:45pm ET slot ever outside of the NHL playoffs and Tour de France. Versus earned a 0.9 in N.Y., its highest ever for that market, and a 6.1 in Pittsburgh.

It was a nearly identical figure, but a new record nonetheless.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sabres/Pens Garners Record Ratings

The Penguins shootout victory over the Sabres on Tuesday (March 13th) that was shown on Versus drew a record audience. An e-mail from the NHL:

Tuesday’s Buffalo at Pittsburgh game on VERSUS posted a .41 national household cable rating, garnering 394,678 viewers. The telecast not only was the highest-rated NHL game this year, but the most-viewed NHL regular-season game ever on the network. In addition, the shoot-out thriller outranked every other prime-time cable program in both the Buffalo and Pittsburgh television markets. In Buffalo, the game registered a 12.0 rating, up 16 percent from last season’s comparable average (10.0) for Sabres games on VERSUS. In Pittsburgh, the telecast received a 6.0 rating, making it the highest rating ever in Pittsburgh for a Penguins game on the network.

Obviously, this is an extremely impressive figure and the gigantic 12.0 rating in Buffalo is a nice rebound from the disappointing numbers of late February. Te regular season record isn't too much of a surprise considering the game matched up the two best American TV markets on a day when the Pens arena deal was announced, but it's always nice to see positive news in the regularly bleak landscape of NHL TV ratings.

Buffalo continues to drive the ratings for Versus and it will be interesting to see how many Sabres games the network will try and cover next year. It seems safe to say it will be in the double digits, up from 8 this year.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Local Ratings In Carolina

Carolina is one of the 21 American markets that broadcast their games on an FSN affiliate and they show just 58 of the 82 regular season games. Despite winning the Stanley Cup last season, ratings for Hurricanes games are actually slightly down this year. From The Raleigh News & Observer:

According to FSN, last season's Hurricanes games averaged a 1.1 or 1.2 rating, with 1.0 being equivalent to 1 percent of the Triangle's television households. This season, the game broadcasts have averaged 0.9 or 1.0, said Jeff Genthner, FSN South's vice president and general manager.

Yet, Genthner pointed out, only seven of the other 21 teams with broadcast deals with FSN average better ratings than the Hurricanes.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Late February Ratings

The fight filled contest between Buffalo and Ottawa that took place on February 22nd drew a 5.4 rating on MSG. While that number may pale in comparison to the ratings of popular network programming, it is a strong rating for a cable station. Considering that Thursday nights are filled with some of the most watched network shows (American Idol and Survivor specifically) and that it was a home game (a 1.0 rating in Buffalo is equivalent to roughly 6,500 households, so the 18,690 people at the game make a significant impact) it's a very respectable draw.

The much anticipated rematch two nights later drew a 6.5 local rating. The hype the game received both nationally and locally helped push the number upwards, but it is a bit of a surprise that more people in Buffalo tuned in for the All Star game than a game that received as much attention as this did.

On February 27 the Sabres defeated the hated Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre and the rating can't be described as anything but a disappointment. It only drew a 4.7 despite Buffalo being on the road. It's partially a reflection of American Idol's popularity, but a low number nonetheless. To be fair, a 4.7 average would still be the highest local rating in the NHL, but it was significantly below MSG's average in hockey rabid Buffalo.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Baby Joe Mesi on Versus Tonight

Buffalo's own Baby Joe Mesi makes his return to the boxing ring in front of a national audience tonight on Versus (9 PM EST) and Tim Graham speculates that the Sabres history of good ratings on the channel may have played a role:

My goal is to use fighters that can attract ratings, and Joe, coming from an area with a pretty sizable following, I figured he would help the ratings," said Bruce Trampler, matchmaker for Las Vegas-based promoter Top Rank. "The additional controversy of his health and well-being is another factor."

Versus knows the power of Buffalo sports fans quite well. The NHL All-Star game last month drew a 0.7 national rating, but a whopping 7.1 rating in Buffalo.

Still waiting on the figures for Tuesday's national telecast against the Flyers...

Monday, February 19, 2007

2007 NHL All Star Game

The 2007 NHL All Star game was held at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on january 24th 2007 and Sabres fans had plenty of reasons to watch. Buffalo supporters helped propel three Sabres (Daniel Briere, Ryan Miller, and Brian Campbell) to starting positions through the fan voting process. It was the first time that a team has ever had three players make their All Star debut as starters. The heavy Sabre presence coupled with Daniel Briere's MVP performance made the exhibition must-see TV in Buffalo and the rating reflected it. The game garnered a 7.1 rating on Versus and was the highest rated cable show in Buffalo for the night. Nationally, the game drew a .7 rating with 10% of the total households being attributed to the Buffalo market alone. In addition, many Sabres fans watched the game on CBC. CBC drew a 2.7 rating meaning Buffalo had a combined rating of 9.8 by far the highest figure in America. To put into perspective how highly rated the game was in Buffalo, here are the ratings for any US city that the game was a top-20 rated cable program:

Buffalo (7.1 rating) (2.7 CBC)
Pittsburgh (2.8 rating)
Detroit (1.3 rating)*
Nashville (1.2 rating)
St. Louis (1.1 rating)
Denver (1.1 rating)
Philadelphia (1.0 rating)
Richmond-Petersburg (1.0 rating)
Boston (.9 rating)
Columbus, OH (.8 rating)
Minneapolis-St. Paul (.7 rating)
Chicago (.7 rating)
Baltimore (.7 rating)
Tampa-St. Petersburg (.6 rating)
Dallas (.5 rating)
San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose (.5 rating)

* Detroit's CBC total unknown.

2006-2007 Ratings Update

On January 6th, 2007 Alan Pergament updated Sabres fans on the team's ratings in his weekly column: (Buffalo News articles remain active for a shot period of time.)

While there has been national concern about declining NHL ratings in many team markets, the Buffalo Sabres' fast start has led to more ratings success on MSG this season. The MSG games have averaged an impressive 5.6 here and the average hits 6.0 when you include the games carried on Versus, according to WIVB-TV researcher Bob Gallivan. A year ago, the current average was 4.9. To put the 6.0 average in perspective, it is better than many prime time regular series get on NBC, Fox and ABC. And Sabres ratings are bound to increase once the playoffs approach.

Once again, the 6.0 overall rating was good enough to be the top local rating for NHL games in the United States.

2005-2006 Eastern Conference Finals

Some details regarding TV ratings for the Sabres playoff run were made public. Reports stated that Buffalo drew ratings ranging from the high teens to the low thirties for several of the games against the Ottawa Senators.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, the ratings for Games 1-3 were made public. Thanks to www.sabreSFans.com for an article containing the details.

Game 1 of the 2005-2006 Eastern Conference Finals was on May 20th, 2006 and was broadcast on NBC. The Sabres, lead by Ryan Miller’s 29 saves, defeated the Hurricanes 3-2 at RBC Center. In Raleigh the game drew a 4.4 rating (43,350 households) compared to Buffalo where the game drew a 31.0 rating (199,640 households). Nationally, Game 1 earned a 1.0 rating (1.1 million households).

Game 2 of the 2005-2006 Eastern Conference Finals took place on May 22nd, 2006 and was broadcast on OLN. Carolina’s Ray Whitney scored twice to help the Hurricanes tie the best of seven series at one game apiece. In Buffalo, the game drew a 23.6 rating (151,980 households) while 50,250 households watched in Raleigh (5.1 rating). Nationally, Game 2 earned a .64 rating or 705,280 households.

Game 3 of the 2005-2006 Eastern Conference Finals was also an OLN broadcast on May 24, 2006. The Sabres used two goals from Daniel Briere and a goal and an assist from Ales Kotalik to regain the series lead. In Raleigh, Game 3 garnered a 4.2 rating (41,380 households) while Buffalo drew a 20.1 local rating or 129,440 households. The national rating for Game 3 was .78 (859,560 households).

Past Season Averages

The Empire Sports Network broadcast Sabres games in the 2003-2004 season. This was Buffalo's first full season under the ownership of Tom Golisano and the team performed much better than they had with the uncertain clouds of bankruptcy and relocation looming over their heads. Buffalo went 37-34-7-4 (W-L-T-OTL) and narrowly missed the postseason. However, the Northeast division was particularly strong in '03-'04 and the Sabres finished in the division's cellar for the third consecutive year. Empire averaged a strong 3.2 rating for the season, which was good enough to be the 2nd highest rated TV market in the United States for NHL games finishing only behind Detroit.

The 2004-2005 campaign was canceled due to the NHL lockout. The Empire Sports Network (which had been severely weakened in the wake of the Adelphia Communications corporate scandal) was off the hook for their annual $9.5 million rights fee paid to carry Sabres games. Adelphia decided to eliminate the Empire Sports Network in January 2005 and it signed off for the final time two months later. Obviously, this left the Sabres in limbo.

After the lockout, Buffalo signed a unique temporary deal with MSG to broadcast games. MSG normally runs the broadcast production, but because of proximity issues they allowed the Sabres to control the whole broadcast, sell its own advertisements, and produce its own postgame show. Despite initial confusion with zoning issues, it turned out to be an enormous success for both sides. The Sabres exceeded expectations on the ice. They were among the biggest surprises of the NHL season and the city of Buffalo became infatuated with a fast and exciting group of "nobodies". Buffalo drew a 4.9 local rating, which topped Detroit and was the highest rating of any team in the United States. The ratings continued to soar in the playoffs as the Sabres made an inspiring run to the Eastern Conference Finals that eventually ended when a Sabres squad decimated with injuries squad fell to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 of the ECF.

The enormous ratings were not overlooked. MSG and the Sabres renewed their contract in 2006 coming to an agreement on a 10 year contract extension. Financial details were not disclosed.


I'm a Buffalo Sabres fan that has always taken an interest in television ratings because it gives a quantitative analysis on how interested cities are in my favorite sport. Obviously, using TV ratings (an inexact science to begin with) alone won't give you a fully accurate picture, but at the very least it shows a rough level of interest. Information about NHL television ratings is widely available, but often difficult to search for. Hopefully, this blog will provide an easy place to get the information for those who like to see the numbers. It will mainly be a collection of excerpts from Buffalo News television reporter Alan Pergament, WIVB researcher Bob Gallivan, and other media outlets that report on ratings.