The Puck Stops Here: NBA Melts NHL in Ratings Race

Heat, Mavs burn up Nielsen; hockey on thin ice

After the NBA Finals and the NHL Stanley Cup Finals both got off to fast starts last week, the two championship series are heading in two very different directions.

At first blush, the ratings for the NHL title skirmish were promising, as the best-of-seven series between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks bowed on NBC to 4.56 million viewers (June 1). Vancouver scored with 18.5 seconds left in regulation to take a 1-0 series lead over Boston.

The series opener notched a 2.7 HH rating, the highest draw for a Game 1 since 1999.

Despite a tight score, the audience for Game 2 fell off considerably. Vancouver’s 3-2 win in overtime averaged 3.37 million viewers on Saturday night between 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., down 43 percent from the second matchup of the 2010 Final.

The preliminary 1.2 rating for adults 18-49 was down 50 percent from last year’s Game 2, which notched a 2.4.

While Game 2 was the least-watched Stanley Cup Final to air on a broadcast network since Game 5 of the 2007 series (2.87 million viewers), it’s worth noting that the HUT levels are miserable on Saturday nights. (In other words, there are fewer people watching television on Saturday than any other day of the week.)

Game 3 airs Monday night on the cable network Versus. The puck drops at 8 p.m. EDT.

NBC faced an uphill climb as soon as the Canucks clinched a title berth. Because Vancouver’s Canadian homegrown fans are not included in the Nielsen TV ratings sample, the network’s American ratings were almost guaranteed to take a hit.

The last time a Canadian team fought for the Stanley Cup, in 2007, Ottawa and Anaheim drew the lowest ratings in history, averaging just 1.76 million viewers over a span of five games.

In April, NBCU-Comcast plunked down $2 billion for 10 years of exclusive TV rights to the NHL.

If hockey isn’t drawing a lot of heat, the same cannot be said for the NBA Finals on ABC. Through the first two games of the Miami-Dallas series, ABC is averaging 15.3 million total viewers, up 3 percent from Games 1 and 2 of last season’s epic Lakers-Celtics battle.

Game 1 delivered a 9.0 rating and 15.2 million viewers, reaching a seven-year high on both fronts. Elevated by Dallas power forward Dirk Nowitzki’s fourth-quarter heroics, the second game served up a 9.3 rating and 15.5 million viewers. By way of an historical comparison, Game 2 of the 2006 Heat-Mavs Finals drew an 8.0 rating and 12.4 million viewers. 

While overnights aren’t the best indicators of how a final rating will shape out, Game 3 put up some big preliminary numbers. Nielsen reported that Sunday night’s nail-biter delivered an 11.1 overnight rating, down slightly from an 11.5 for last year’s third Lakers-Celtics meeting.

Miami held off a late surge by Dallas to take a 2-1 lead in the series, which resumes on ABC Tuesday night (June 7) at 9 p.m. EDT.