The NHL's Falling Viewership

RSN Diaspora

molests goats for comedy
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Jul 29, 2005
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Austin Karp has a piece in this week's Sports Business Journal about the 22% drop in ESPN and TNT's viewership numbers. Part of that can be explained by doubling the number of games they carry--more games means fewer will be marquee matchups thereby reducing the average viewership...but only part of it. The way the league schedules and blacks out games has to be a bigger problem--as SportsProMedia put it, one reason for TNT's decline is that "audiences have been the several local blackouts affecting at least seven of its broadcasts in major markets like Boston and New York. Meanwhile, ESPN has had six of its games played on Sunday, pitting the NHL against the National Football League (NFL). Last year there were no weekend games broadcast by the network at this point."

While some fans reacted by complaining about the digital advertising (I don't like it more than anyone else, but it isn't a deal-killer for me), others probably more rightly pointed to games all starting at the same time (meaning you can't watch a whole lot of other games, even during your preferred game's intermissions), and the myriad services one has to subscribe to in order to watch. Three examples of these complaints:

View: https://twitter.com/PenguinsJesus/status/1620834333014769664


View: https://twitter.com/JakeD8771/status/1620878609014755330


View: https://twitter.com/SeanOBrien81/status/1620817064662552577



Speaking personally, a big reason why I get the Disney+ bundle is the inclusion of ESPN+, which took over streaming from the league's now-defunct NHL.tv. But if the game is on ESPN or TNT, I can't watch those without a separate provider (I use YTTV, so I do get to see those games but not everyone wants all the different streaming or cable packages). And if the game is on NHL Network? I'm shit out of luck--you can't get those games on ESPN+ and YTTV doesn't carry the network, while most cable and satellite providers that I know of only offer it on a premium tier with a bunch of other sports channels that have niche audiences, while NBA TV, MLB Network, and NFL Network have much broader carriage on basic plans. If the league is going to grow the game and be true to the spirit of "Hockey is for Everyone", then the first thing I would do is drop the carriage fees for NHLN so that providers are incentivized to offer it to customers *OR* allow ESPN+ to carry NHLN games much like Center Ice subscribers typically get all of NHLN's programming. This is a particularly acute problem for hockey in the US, as the sport doesn't have matchups like Celtics v. Lakers, Cubs v. Cardinals, Sox/Yanks, Cowboys vs. Anyone, etc. that draw in casual viewers.
 

cshea

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A couple of things come to mind. First, the league is horrendous at marketing, particularly the star players. The only evidence that's needed to say the league isn't rigged is Connor McDavid ending up in fucking Edmonton. They were dealt a bad hand in that one but they could do plenty more with the stars in big markets like Pastrnak, Panarin, Crosby, etc. I'm not saying this because he plays for my team but Pastrnak is a super star with a great personality and should be front and center of their marketing efforts. But he's not.

Secondly, player movement is slow and lame. The NBA and NFL generate a TON of buzz and interest during offseason's because superstars are constantly rumored to be on the move and then actually do change teams. That does not happen in the NHL. Player movement is mostly a bunch of 2nd line wingers and 2nd pairing defensmen playing musical chairs.
 

catomatic

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Jul 16, 2005
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Yup. I’m the canary in the coal mine. After decades of playing, watching and following the sport closely, I’ve mostly given up on live viewing this year because of the requirement of multiple platforms at great expense, the subscriptions to which still don’t guarantee immunity from blackouts. I’m done with being milked for every last penny. I cut the cord and dropped all other platforms. If I really need to tune in I’ll risk a pirated stream or meet teammates in a bar, but even then you have to make sure the place has the requisite channels. It’s too much.
 

EL Jeffe

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I'm an outlier here because I'm out of market for the Bruins and I have ESPN+. So I've seen more Bruins games the last 2 years than probably the prior 10 years combined. That said, I'm not a true diehard and if/when the team starts to fall off, so will my viewership (to a degree, at least).
 

RSN Diaspora

molests goats for comedy
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I'm an outlier here because I'm out of market for the Bruins and I have ESPN+. So I've seen more Bruins games the last 2 years than probably the prior 10 years combined. That said, I'm not a true diehard and if/when the team starts to fall off, so will my viewership (to a degree, at least).
Don't get me wrong--ESPN+ supplanting NHL.tv is great for US fans. I already pay for the NBA package and couldn't justify the NHL package owing to the frequent overlap between the Bruins and Celtics, but with ESPN+ also carrying most of my alma mater's football games, my wife wanting Hulu, and the kids wanting Disney+ the bundle was a no-brainer. But with the explosion in streaming meaning a grossly more fragmented media landscape than ever, requiring fans to have separate services for nationally televised games (ESPN/TNT), local games (regional sports networks), and out-of-market games (ESPN+ or Center Ice for cable/satellite subscribers) means what is already very much the 4th of the four major sports in the US is going to have to think differently than other sports in how they restrict content.
 

bagwell1

New Member
Jul 31, 2006
442
Jacksonville
I find the various ways to view games annoying (we have the NHL package which is great for B's games living in Florida (only missed one so far)but don't get the "exclusive games") but I will keep my thoughts to a very simple concept which I think is a problem for how the NHL is viewed. I am likely part of a very small minority which I am about most things. But what the hell.

I love hockey and now that we have ended NFL watching, hockey is the only sport my wife and I care about..certainly the only one that we watch regular season games. However, as much as I love the game of hockey, I find the NHL encouraging "Gimmick Hockey" and making those games more valuable (3pts to 2pts for real hockey games) an abomination. Now I actually enjoy the OT (shootouts bore me) but having these games more valuable than regulation is a joke.

For me, step one is have confidence in your actual sport(it's good!)....not the Gimmick version. Make all games count the same ( keeping gimmick is fine but if so, a real sport would give 3 pts for regulation wins.) I mean, The Stanley Cup is won by teams playing hockey...not some gimmick version. So why not have the teams that are best at hockey make the playoffs and seeded correctly?

I know the pts variance has been going on for what seems like forever but interest hasn't exactly sky rocketed.The league clearly has zero confidence in the appeal of their sport during the regular season and doesn't think much of their own product.Why would consumers? Gimmick league....gimmick interest. They get what they deserve.
 

changer591

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Jul 19, 2005
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I don't think it has anything to do with the marketing of players...it's ALWAYS been like that. I think it's the fact that I used to have NESN and could watch every game and occasionally catch a random game on ESPN or NBC or whatever (I don't really remember). Then I did some cord cutting and went to YouTubeTV, and then eventually lost NESN. And then I didn't bother subscribing to ESPN+ (even though I do use Disney+) and I can't be bothered to use YouTubeTV AND Fubo. The NHL has the same problem as baseball, as I experienced the same lack of cohesion for baseball, and I don't care enough to get an online MLB streaming solution (whatever it is), and even then, I'm probably going to get screwed by blackout rules.
And yet, I can still watch every single Patriots and Celtics game without needing to do anything special. I think it's safe to say viewership is down because the viewers that used to be able to get games can't anymore without shelling out more money. I don't care how interested someone would be if McDavid was on the Rangers...I doubt marketability is something that people care about when deciding if they want to fork over another $19.99 a month to watch games.
 

Cotillion

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Jun 11, 2019
4,881
The number of games that I have to find via "other" means when I'm already playing a premium for a product is kind of the whole issue.
 

RSN Diaspora

molests goats for comedy
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Jul 29, 2005
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I don't think it has anything to do with the marketing of players...it's ALWAYS been like that.
Right, but it shouldn't be. Outside of Ovechkin, how many players could casual fans in the US name outside their own team's market? The Connor McDavid example is a really good one--he's probably the best player in the league, and I doubt too many casual fans have ever heard of him, let alone would recognize him walking down the street. It may be a chicken and egg thing--people don't recognize him because the league's entire approach to marketing the sport is shit, or the marketing approach is shit because they don't market their stars, but it's still a major problem. Auston Matthews isn't exactly lighting it up this year, but he should be a good story for fans--a rare US born star, an even rarer star from the Latino community, and someone from a region that is struggling to support its hockey team (Arizona). I wouldn't know who he is if I weren't already a fan of the game.
 

McBride11

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Jul 15, 2005
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The number of games that I have to find via "other" means when I'm already playing a premium for a product is kind of the whole issue.
It is absurd. I have ESPN+ and YTTV.
YTTV doesn't carry NHLN so lose all those .
I currently live in the RDU area, when the Bs played at Car recently I couldn't watch despite paying all this money. Ok they want me to watch the local RSN, but I am a Boston fan, I pay to listen to the Boston team (as cringey as that is sometimes). Blackout rules are the worst.

However, the Celtics are the same. Have NBA package and YTTV. Similar blackouts when Cs play Charlotte. I guess the only difference is I get NBATv on the YTTV.

So I really think it is more marketing. Out of market (Boston fans at least) deal with the same dual subs to see as many games as possible. NBA is inherently easy to market; less players, not covered in a ton of gear / helmets. But they still do a better job at it overall.

Blackouts when you pay for a premium package grinds me gears to no end though. Shit, when I lived in Charleston SC, I couldn't watch the Sox on MLB package if they played ATLANTA. Come on. The local bars didn't even have the Atlanta RSN.
 

Mighty Joe Young

The North remembers
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Sep 14, 2002
8,376
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I find the various ways to view games annoying (we have the NHL package which is great for B's games living in Florida (only missed one so far)but don't get the "exclusive games") but I will keep my thoughts to a very simple concept which I think is a problem for how the NHL is viewed. I am likely part of a very small minority which I am about most things. But what the hell.

I love hockey and now that we have ended NFL watching, hockey is the only sport my wife and I care about..certainly the only one that we watch regular season games. However, as much as I love the game of hockey, I find the NHL encouraging "Gimmick Hockey" and making those games more valuable (3pts to 2pts for real hockey games) an abomination. Now I actually enjoy the OT (shootouts bore me) but having these games more valuable than regulation is a joke.

For me, step one is have confidence in your actual sport(it's good!)....not the Gimmick version. Make all games count the same ( keeping gimmick is fine but if so, a real sport would give 3 pts for regulation wins.) I mean, The Stanley Cup is won by teams playing hockey...not some gimmick version. So why not have the teams that are best at hockey make the playoffs and seeded correctly?

I know the pts variance has been going on for what seems like forever but interest hasn't exactly sky rocketed.The league clearly has zero confidence in the appeal of their sport during the regular season and doesn't think much of their own product.Why would consumers? Gimmick league....gimmick interest. They get what they deserve.
I agree that the three point games are kind of a gimmick … but they exist to create parity which is the NHLs fevered wet dream. Personally I love OT , and hate shootouts. Wondering if TV ratings are down in Canada as well. Probably not as the Leafs, Jets, Flames and Oilers are all doing well. Even Ottawa has improved quite a bit this year. Only the lottery tanking Canucks and Habs are bad.
 

luckiestman

Son of the Harpy
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Jul 15, 2005
32,545
I watched a lot of Bruins growing up and tried to follow them in college but became a playoffs only guy. It’s weird because I go to Hockey games AHL/NHL and have a blast but somehow just don’t care enough to figure out how to watch regular season stuff. It doesn’t help that hockey seems like the sport that the regular season is almost irrelevant. You don’t want straight chalk with seedings but the NHL seems like a crapshoot which I guess makes the playoffs fun but why should I care about the regular season.

The last time I thought hockey was really good was when you knew the Avs were going to be going at it with the Red Wings. I’m ignorant so maybe something like that has been going down and I’m unaware.
 

StuckOnYouk

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Looks like it’s time to bring back the Whalers, and Nordiques as well as the Adams, Patrick, Norris and Smythe divisions.
 

MuzzyField

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Looks like it’s time to bring back the Whalers, and Nordiques as well as the Adams, Patrick, Norris and Smythe divisions.
I'd be cool with that!

Brass Bonanza!

As fans paying for the national access packages all the pro sports with eastern seaboard 1965 blackouts to endue, we need the RSN model to die, die, die (all the MVPD, cable and sat, subscribers) yesterday. When the OTT streamers tell the RSNs to F-off with their pricing model from 1990 it's a good thing.
 

Petagine in a Bottle

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I'd be cool with that!

Brass Bonanza!

As fans paying for the national access packages all the pro sports with eastern seaboard 1965 blackouts to endue, we need the RSN model to die, die, die (all the MVPD, cable and sat, subscribers) yesterday. When the OTT streamers tell the RSNs to F-off with their pricing model from 1990 it's a good thing.
Careful what you wish for. The RSN model dying would be pretty bad for Boston teams.
 

kenneycb

Hates Goose Island Beer; Loves Backdoor Play
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Dec 2, 2006
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It'd also be pretty bad for the leagues as a large revenue source would be drying up. Presumably it would be replaced by something but the leagues need the RSNs and vice versa right now.
 

WoburnDiaspora

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The NHL has made viewing their product way, way too difficult. You have to pay for ESPN+ and deal with blackouts. Or If you want any of the RSN's you either have to pay an extra monthly fee just for the RSN or you HAVE to have Spectrum or whichever cable provider is exclusive for that RSN.

It's a complete cluster mess.
 

MiracleOfO2704

not AWOL
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Jul 12, 2005
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I agree that the three point games are kind of a gimmick … but they exist to create parity which is the NHLs fevered wet dream. Personally I love OT , and hate shootouts. Wondering if TV ratings are down in Canada as well. Probably not as the Leafs, Jets, Flames and Oilers are all doing well. Even Ottawa has improved quite a bit this year. Only the lottery tanking Canucks and Habs are bad.
I feel like the viewing experience between the US and Canada is apples and grapefruits. Sportsnet pretty well ruled the roost before its version of ESPN+ (SN Now Premium) took over from NHL.tv, and there’s no NHL Network to mess up the blackouts. As a Bruins fan in the Maritimes, I stopped buying packages because I miss MAYBE 10 games a year. Everything else either gets picked up with an in-market team (our zone is shared between the Canadiens and Senators, so that’s 8 games a year guaranteed) or SN filling space with NESN or their opponents’ RSN broadcast. Like, during the last road trip, I missed one game, and only because it competed directly with HNIC.
 

Petagine in a Bottle

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The NHL has made viewing their product way, way too difficult. You have to pay for ESPN+ and deal with blackouts. Or If you want any of the RSN's you either have to pay an extra monthly fee just for the RSN or you HAVE to have Spectrum or whichever cable provider is exclusive for that RSN.

It's a complete cluster mess.
That’s the model of the NHL, MLB, and NBA, though. The health of each sport primarily depends on everyone subsidizing the nets for those that watch. In a world where cable subs are declining, either costs are going to way up for fans or revenues are gonna go way down.
 

jcaz

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I live in Ontario - in the Toronto viewing area. I still have cable. There is a hockey game on here every night. There is also 30 minute state of the league shows that air before these games. If the Leafs aren't playing, I'll typically get another Canadian team, but I sometimes get the Bs if it's a marquis game.

If you're an NHL fan here, you have every opportunity to take in the product with cable. I don't know how it is by streaming.
 

MuzzyField

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That’s the model of the NHL, MLB, and NBA, though. The health of each sport primarily depends on everyone subsidizing the nets for those that watch. In a world where cable subs are declining, either costs are going to way up for fans or revenues are gonna go way down.
I would change "health" to "greed". The leagues, and teams, will need to recalculate the actual value of their product and adjust accordingly and deal with the new reality that is coming.

I'm not willing to pay to make up the difference (who is?), and the next generation has already opted out of the current model.

This pimple (bubble) can't pop soon enough.
 

ColdSoxPack

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Jul 14, 2005
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I live in Ontario - in the Toronto viewing area. I still have cable. There is a hockey game on here every night. There is also 30 minute state of the league shows that air before these games. If the Leafs aren't playing, I'll typically get another Canadian team, but I sometimes get the Bs if it's a marquis game.

If you're an NHL fan here, you have every opportunity to take in the product with cable. I don't know how it is by streaming.
Living in Toronto was like being in hockey heaven for me. And the icing on the cake was 2 HNIC games on Saturdays.
 

RSN Diaspora

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I live in Ontario - in the Toronto viewing area. I still have cable. There is a hockey game on here every night. There is also 30 minute state of the league shows that air before these games. If the Leafs aren't playing, I'll typically get another Canadian team, but I sometimes get the Bs if it's a marquis game.

If you're an NHL fan here, you have every opportunity to take in the product with cable. I don't know how it is by streaming.
I have no doubt, but there's a reason why I focused on ESPN and TNT: hockey is already religion in Canada--I remember being in T.O. in July for the Beaches Jazz Festival one year (awesome weekend, BTW) and the front page of The Globe and Mail's sports section was all hockey news above the fold. Between the massive population difference and the saturation of the sport up north to the point that anyone who isn't already a fan of the game is likely not a fan by choice, growth probably has to occur in the US for the league to prosper.
 

Ale Xander

Hamilton
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Oct 31, 2013
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I may have beeen wrong on having the ASG in SFL. Seen every team represented at the FLA live plaza in 20/25 minutes except the 3 CA teams, Vancouver, Arizona and Columbus. Even Winnipeg fans were visible.

Bruins and Devils outnumbering the Laffs in snowbirdville
 

finnVT

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On top of the other things mentioned, I also just find ESPN+ to be a horrible experience. Practically the only thing I watch on it is the Bruins, and yet whenever I open it up, it insists on showing me a gigantic list of (men's & women's) college basketball or a slew of other random events that I have to scroll past to find hockey and the B's game. Maybe I have my settings configured badly or something, but the result is that I basically never just randomly browse and put on other teams' games the way I do for basketball/football games that are on YTTV.
 

LogansDad

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On top of the other things mentioned, I also just find ESPN+ to be a horrible experience. Practically the only thing I watch on it is the Bruins, and yet whenever I open it up, it insists on showing me a gigantic list of (men's & women's) college basketball or a slew of other random events that I have to scroll past to find hockey and the B's game. Maybe I have my settings configured badly or something, but the result is that I basically never just randomly browse and put on other teams' games the way I do for basketball/football games that are on YTTV.
It's even worse if, like me, you watch on a PC browser, because there is no way to stay logged on, so you have to click through a minimum of 3 screens just to get logged on every single time.
 

Lose Remerswaal

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I may have beeen wrong on having the ASG in SFL. Seen every team represented at the FLA live plaza in 20/25 minutes except the 3 CA teams, Vancouver, Arizona and Columbus. Even Winnipeg fans were visible.

Bruins and Devils outnumbering the Laffs in snowbirdville
They probably hired people to wear those outfits. Did the folks in Devils jerseys look like they were from The Jerz?
 

RSN Diaspora

molests goats for comedy
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On top of the other things mentioned, I also just find ESPN+ to be a horrible experience. Practically the only thing I watch on it is the Bruins, and yet whenever I open it up, it insists on showing me a gigantic list of (men's & women's) college basketball or a slew of other random events that I have to scroll past to find hockey and the B's game.
There are times that this happens to me, but generally I get the Bruins game highlighted as soon as I click on “ESPN+” at the top of the screen. Have you chosen your favorite teams in the app? I’m guessing that’s why i get the Bruins easily, but maybe not.

It’s an annoyance that the feed defaults to the home team rather than the team I marked as a favorite, but it’s a minor one for me.
 

Ale Xander

Hamilton
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Oct 31, 2013
71,796
I’m sorry for you.
Rather have them than Panthers/Hurricane fans
We ribbed the Rangers (enemy of my enemy energy) and Laffs (for not winning a cup in eons)

(these aren’t jersey shores, but nice folk from Ridgewood/Saddle River)