What’s behind the dramatic drop in U.S. viewership?
NHL TV viewership in the United States drops dramatically. (Photo via USA TODAY Sports)
National NHL ratings in the United States have taken a huge hit year-over-year, according to a new report from the Sports Business Journal.
The report reveals a worrying 22% drop in viewership year-over-year, especially noteworthy given the NHL is only in the second year of a pair of seven-time exclusive deals. years on US media rights with ESPN and TNT.
In part, the drop is due to an expanded slate of NHL games on each network, the report said. ESPN and TNT doubled the number of matches broadcast nationally from 27 to 54 matches, resulting in an expected, but nonetheless disappointing, drop in average viewership.
Combined with press outages in key regions for TNT and the Sunday competition with the NFL for ESPN – neither of which were taken into account due to the lack of outages or weekend games until now last year – and the cause of the significant drop in grades becomes much clearer.
Interestingly, aside from in-game viewership, ESPN’s partnership with the NHL appears to have made significant progress since last year’s All-Star break. Central Network reported positive gains in online and in-app engagement with the NHL, while social media engagement around the NHL grew 224% year-over-year, according to The report.
In the case of increased social media engagement, it seems likely that the introduction of fan voting via Twitter has been a huge success. Fans were able to use tweets, retweets and hashtags to vote their players for hockey’s mid-season classic.
What else could be causing the drop in ratings?
That doesn’t make the NHL’s ratings slump any less of a concern, though, although it was somewhat expected by major players. Beyond the report’s findings, other contributors to the league’s loss of viewership on major networks likely boil down to a few key factors.
As a league made up of highly localized fanbases, at least compared to professional sports juggernauts like the NFL or NBA, large markets likely have an outsize effect on ratings for the league as a whole.
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With big-market clubs like the Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers, and even the Pittsburgh Penguins struggling this season, it’s not hard to imagine those markets affecting things disproportionately.
Problems with the fragmentation and accessibility of the NHL product on different platforms, including regional sports networks like the reportedly bankrupt Bally Sports, or various ESPN+-exclusive NHL games, surely complicate matters as well. It only takes a brief reading of a few online forums to see the frustration and complication they probably caused. Not to mention, it takes a fairly modest jump to suggest that new fans have also been locked out due to these restrictions.
For what it’s worth, fans on social media seem to have their own theories and suggestions as to why things went wrong this year for the NHL on ESPN and TNT, and how they would fix things.
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