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Stanley Cup Finals 2011: NHL Continues to Show American Fanbase Growth

VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 15:  Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins celebrates in the locker room after defeating the Vancouver Canucks in Game Seven of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena on June 15, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4 to 0.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images
Jordan MatthewsAnalyst IIIJune 16, 2011

Despite what many thought was going to be a ratings disaster, the NHL continues to grow its fanbase in the United States.

Preliminary numbers show that last night's Game 7 between Vancouver and Boston averaged a 3.3 rating with roughly 8.4 million viewers. This doesn't include the first half-hour, which was dominated by the pregame. Better numbers will be out later when the final ratings are released, but for now that's what we have.

Over the five games broadcast on NBC, the NHL averaged 5.24 million viewers. While this number is down from the Blackhawks vs. Flyers series last year, it is still a remarkable number for a series that included a Canadian team.

In fact, when taking local viewership into consideration, Boston's 4.5 million metro population is dwarfed by the combined metro populations of Chicago and Philadelphia, which is 15.5 million.

All things considered, despite lower numbers the NHL should consider the numbers a win, and the NHL is still growing in the States.

Its growth isn't just increasing in TV ratings either. Last year the NHL did its best year of business ever, pulling in $2.7 billion in revenue. This year, it's expected to make very close to $3 billion.

Next year, the NHL has an opportunity to smash the ball out of the park. With the NFL possibly being locked out for the season and the NBA almost certainly missing a season, the NHL has the likely advantage of being the only professional sport broadcast for the large majority of the regular season.

While consistently growing more and more, the NHL's ratings are still millions behind the NBA's, but that could change soon. However, the NHL makes much more money with a projected $3 billion in revenue compared to the NBA's expected $400 million in losses. The NHL also has better arena attendance than the NBA.

The NHL's main TV network, Versus, is expected to be rebranded to NBC Sports. Versus is currently only available to 80 million households compared to ESPN's 99 million, but with the Comcast merger, Versus/NBC Sports is expected to be on par with ESPN in terms of availability by the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The merger will also bring more cross-promotion between NBC and NBC Sports, which will work out to the NHL's advantage, and the NHL will make $125 million more per year on its TV deal with NBC.

Regardless of whether numbers were up or down, the NHL is still continuing to show promise and growth in the United States. The NHL hasn't even come close to reaching its potential in the American fanbase, and the next few years could be huge in the development of that fanbase.

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