NHL Still Lagging in American TV Popularity

Ken FossAnalyst IMarch 9, 2008

Last season Chris Pronger, Scott Niedemeyer, and Teemu Selanne hoisted the Stanley Cup live on NBC in front of 19 thousand screaming fans and a television audience of approximately 1.3 million people.

That all sounds nice on paper, but when you compare that to the disappointing NBA Finals number of 5.3 million on ABC, you quickly understand why the NHL is currently showing the majority of its nationally televised games here in the States on HDNET and VS.

Now, as a hockey fan, I ask myself how? How did a game that, at its peak in the early 1990s with such resounding stars as Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, sink down to battling with the MLS, UFC, and Competitive Eating for ratings—and yes it's THAT bad.

Let's break it down. The MLS enjoyed its biggest season complete with a game of the century (that unfortunately was on FSC) in the only game David Beckham played all 90" at his somewhat healthy best.

He and the overshadowed trio of Red Bull stars Altidore(19), Angel(32), and Reyna(35), stunned a sold out Giants Stadium (66,000+). Everyone wanted to see this mythical David Beckham character, and they left with seeing one beautiful free kick goal, and three assists in a game where they fell in defeat. The atmosphere was electric. Italy, England... it doesn't matter. That was the best thing I'd see live last year and it hooked me on the beautiful game.

The MLS overall though, last season only finished 25 percent up in television ratings to put them right at the current VS. NHL game numbers. That may come down but with talk of Ronaldo coming over in 2009, as well as some league structure changes (see previous article) I think it can at least average a .5 next season on ESPN. Which could be enough to pull even with the NHL, even with the "Soccer Muggels."

The UFC on the other hand, emerged a few years ago as the MMA circuit. You can mention the upstarts such as Pride FC, or Elite XC, but we all know the truth—it's an NFL to CFL type discussion. They continued their claim as the ninth best sporting event in the US.

Boxing has fallen down the charts like a stone but it's still raking it in with upper income males. Last season was the best PPV year in boxing history, bolstered by healthy incomes from the Ricky Hatton vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight.

The lightweight division produces some scintillating fights, and with the rise of a solid heavyweight contender named Samuel Peters (who KO'ed Maskiyev three nights ago), it could finally set up a big time heavyweight true title fight. I have to put it ahead of the NHL as well at this point. 

As for the IFoCE and MLE, I'll pull this punch for now and say it's only a threat for the future.

The following are the American sports in the order of TV popularity. I will say again, I am a fan of hockey and I will be posting awards primers as well as a few other season in review articles. I'm not a soccer fan committing a click-by shooting. 

1. NFL


3. College Football

4. College Basketball

5. MLB

6. NBA

7. PGA

8. Boxing 

9. UFC

10. NHL