I’ll be the first to admit that ice hockey isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and certainly does not enjoy the same level of popularity as the other three major U.S. sports (football, baseball and basketball). That may have something to do with ice hockey being invented north of the border, (although it should be noted that the “American game” of basketball was invented by the Canadian, Dr. James Naismith). Moreover, the tradition of ice hockey in the United States evolved where the game could be played – in far northern states with frozen ponds and lakes.
Which is not to say ice hockey doesn’t have its rabid fans around the country, who are mesmerized by the sheer speed, skills and toughness of the game. In a way, ice hockey is almost three games-in-one as it incorporates the finesse of figure skating; the eye-hand coordination of golfing; and the rough & tumble world of professional football.
For the past several seasons, NBCSN has been the go-to national cable network for NHL Hockey — last year, for example, the network cable-casted 91 games over the regular season from mid-October through the first part of April. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg with (literally) hundreds of games airing on a variety of regional cable networks. That’s a lot of content which, along with numerous games that viewers can access directly via broadband, may account for the fall-off in NBCSN’s audience during the 2016-17 NHL regular season:
NHL Ratings on NBC Sports Net
While the NHL has a national cable channel outlet in NBCSN (as well as the NHL Network), viewing to hockey has a heavy regional skew that far surpasses that of professional football, baseball and basketball. As a surrogate for general fan interest in the game of hockey, we looked at viewing levels to the 2015 and 2016 NHL All-Star Games. Below you can see the ratings for the Top 25 DMAs in terms of rating performance. A quick perusal of the chart reveals three key DMA patterns:
- They have a home-town NHL team;
- They are in close proximity to an NHL market;
- They are far northern markets, several bordering Canada.
Moreover, every single Top 25 DMA is in the north, with the exception of Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida (which, not coincidentally, is home to the Tampa Bay Lightning):
NHL Viewers are Upscale
When advertisers invest in NHL hockey, they are reaching a very upscale audience. Hockey fans have a reputation for being a bit rowdy… make that very rowdy, but they also reside in upscale homes with the highest TV rating associated with an income of $175,000 – $199,999 (155.1 viewing index.) And correlated with high income is higher educational attainment with hockey viewers more likely to possess a College and/or Graduate Degree (121.5 and 125.2 indices respectively):
Local Cable TV Advertisers
Local cable advertising demand for NHL Hockey is very strong. Over the past two regular seasons, 460 advertisers ordered 11,800+ 30-second spots across 46 Viamedia local markets (60% of our nationwide footprint.) That comes to an average of 12+ spots per advertiser (per season.) And when we confine our analysis to the 26 markets that exhibited advertising in both years, we see an 8.6% rise in ad investments driven primarily by an increase in 30-second units.
Source: Viamedia analysis of B.I.G. internal database (“Sports & High Profile Tracker”) across the 26 markets that exhibited local cable advertising on NHL Regular Season Hockey over the past two seasons (2015-16 & 2016-17.) Copyright © 2017 by Viamedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Just as viewing to NHL hockey has a strong northern (and team) market skew, so, too, are local cable investments concentrated in specific markets via regional cable networks. For every investment dollar with Viamedia over the past two regular seasons, 87 cents were allocated to a regional cable network; 13 cents to a national cable network (NBCSN):
Local Cable TV Advertisers by Industry
All major sports attract significant local cable advertising dollars, and the NHL Regular Season is no exception. Two-thirds of all advertising accrued to the Automotive Category over the past two years — that’s double the amount we typically see for Automotive company-wide (across all programming.) No other category comes close to that sort of over-representation:
Speed, Skill & Toughness
The NHL has morphed from a league comprised entirely of Canadians, to a worldwide consortium of the greatest hockey players on the planet. The infusion of talent from Europe and beyond has raised the overall level of the game with the sort of speed, stick handling and reflexes that far surpass the NHL of my childhood. The players are also bigger, and while they don’t drop their gloves and sticks quite as much as they used to, you won’t often see professional hockey players shying away from fisticuffs. And that pretty much defines today’s game: high speed; unparalleled skills; and sheer toughness – three elements that will keep this blogger (and millions of fans) glued to the TV set when the 101st NHL Season gets underway.
Written by Jonathan Sims
VP of Media Research, Viamedia