Oh, No, Canada! Canucks’ Advance Could Ice Stanley Cup Ratings

NBC desperately needs Bruins to make final

Hockey fans in Vancouver celebrated last night as their Canucks beat the San Jose Sharks in double overtime, earning the team its first Stanley Cup Finals bid in 17 years. And while it was a big win for Canada, Vancouver’s advancement could prove to have a chilling effect on NBC’s ratings.

Because Vancouver’s homegrown fans are obviously not included in the Nielsen TV ratings sample, NBC’s Stanley Cup Finals coverage is almost certain to take a hit. The last time a Canadian team fought for Lord Stanley’s Cup, in 2007, Ottawa and Anaheim drew the lowest ratings in history, averaging just 1.76 million viewers over a span of five games.

Ratings were also hampered by the fact that the first two games of the Ottawa-Anaheim series aired on the cable network Versus. (Game 2 was notable for reaching just 446,000 households, about 1,000 fewer than what ESPN notched the previous year with its coverage of the WNBA All-Star Game.)

Things didn’t pick up much on NBC. Game 3 achieved a 1.1 rating, the lowest prime time sports rating in the network's history.

It should be noted that Vancouver participated in the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, which was one of the highest-rated series on cable. ESPN drew a 5.2 national rating for Game 7 of the series, or a 6.9 when the local number (16.2) for MSG Network was baked in. 

At the time, ESPN reached just 63.1 million households. Naturally, Vancouver played a very small role in the ratings that year, as all eyes were on their opponents, the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts prevailed in a classic 3-2 final, ending the quest for its first NHL title in 54 years.

Luckily for NBC, the Boston Bruins have a good shot at advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1990. The Hub is hockey mad, and local ratings could help defray the loss of those Western Conference households.

NBC’s broadcast of Game 4 between the Bruins and the Tampa Bay notched a 12.3/36 in Boston, the nation’s No. 7 DMA. In other words, more than a third of the Boston market's TV sets were tuned in to the game.

And Boston fans are savvy enough to find the games on Versus. On May 17, Game 2 of the series drew a whopping 14.6 HH rating, the highest local rating ever for a Versus NHL telecast.

Up 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, the Bruins will look to slam the door on Tampa’s title hopes tonight in a game that starts at 8 p.m.

If nothing else, NBC is hoping that some of last year’s magic rubs off on the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. The decisive Game 6 between the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers drew 8.3 million total viewers and a 3.2 rating/10 share among adults 18-49, making it the most-watched NHL game in 36 years.