What do you get when you mix the Olympic sport of speed skating with the eye-hand coordination of tennis and the rough & tumble world of professional football?
That is, ice hockey as it is played in the toughest, most competitive league in the world: the National Hockey League (NHL).
And this mid-April, hockey fans will get to see the greatest players in the world battle it out for Lord Stanley’s Cup in the 88th annual NHL playoffs.
The NHL schedule is a mirror image of the National Basketball League. Thirty teams battle over the course of a grueling 82-game regular season (from October to mid-April) to see which sixteen teams qualify for the playoffs, which are structured in precisely the same fashion: four rounds of best-of-seven games, leading to a championship team that needs to play anywhere from sixteen to twenty-eight playoff games. Last year’s Stanley Cup Champion (the Los Angeles Kings) played twenty-six playoff games to assume the title – that’s practically one-third of an entire season of regular games!
But there the similarity ends.
Canada is the birthplace of professional hockey, and given that ice hockey in America is primarily confined to its northern tier of states (although there are several NHL teams located south of the Mason-Dixon Line), the NHL does not have the same broad appeal (nor television ratings) as the NBA.
But ever since the cable network, Versus, morphed into the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN), the ratings for NHL games in general — and playoff games in particular — have grown substantially. Last season, NBCSN (along with sister cable network, CNBC) delivered an average U.S. HH ratings of 1.15 across 76 NHL playoff games. That’s 55% higher than the prior year’s (2013) playoff ratings:
As is the case with all nationally televised team sporting events, the local DMA ratings are substantially higher in those markets that have a personal stake in the game (i.e., their hometown team). In the June 1st, 2014 Game 7 Western Conference Final between the L.A. Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks, the Los Angeles DMA doubled the national rating (8.54 vs 4.28).
No one, of course, would consider sunny L.A. a classic hockey town replete with frozen lakes and ponds. That would be Chicago (whose Blackhawks are one of the “Original Six” NHL teams), which delivered 10-times the national rating — a Super Bowl-like 43.0 DMA rating!
But whether it’s the hometown team or not, one thing is certain about ratings nationwide: as the playoffs unfold and the stakes are raised, fan excitement — and ratings — rise from one round to the next:
My image of the typical NHL viewing household is one with kids. (More than just a few years ago, my older brother would drag me out of bed at 5am to gather up our sticks and skates to ensure we had the cleanest ice on Carpenter’s Pond.) And, while the NHL Playoffs certainly attract homes with children, what really stands out about the games is the upscale nature of the typical viewing home.
Below we’ve reproduced Acxiom PersonicX Clusters for all of the NHL Playoff games last May, 2014.
In a nut-shell, PersonicX is a household-level consumer segmentation analysis that divides practically every home in America into one of seventy unique clusters across an array of demographic, behavior-graphic and lifestyle characteristics. By matching the unique characteristics of PersonicX clusters to their set-top-box panel homes, Rentrak has created PersonicX HH ratings for all the programs they measure.
As you can see in the chart below, the PersonicX Clusters with the highest NHL Playoff ratings (130 Index cut-off) are decidedly upscale, including the #1 and #2 wealthiest clusters created by Acxiom (i.e., “Summit Estates” & “Established Elite”):
Local Cable Advertising Demand
Local cable advertising demand is concentrated in those large markets with teams participating in the NHL playoffs, and it is hardly a coincidence that one-third of investments over the past two years accrued to regional cable channels that serve these markets, such as MSG (NY), SUN (Tampa), CSNC & NESN (Boston) and FSD (Detroit).
In all, nearly 280 local cable advertisers across 43 Viamedia markets invested in over 3,900 thirty second spots – that comes to 14 spots per advertiser. And, if we isolate those markets in which advertisers invested in NHL Playoff hockey over the past two years (2013 & 2014), we find a 28% overall growth rate – all of which is attributable to higher 30-second unit rates. (Source: B.I.G.SM database — Copyright © 2015 by Viamedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved)
In terms of local cable advertising categories, the NHL Playoffs look a lot like most major sporting events, with automotive capturing the lion’s share of dollars (59%). The next four highest categories (Retail, Hardware, Financial Services and Medical) combined account for a little over one-fifth of all investments:
Speed, Skill & Toughness
Every professional sport is unique in its own way, and professional ice hockey is certainly no exception. But I’m not aware of any other sport that combines high level skills played at such high speeds laced together with unadulterated toughness – an ethos born and bred in Canada.
And when the NHL playoffs roll around, all three — skills, speed and toughness — are stepped up a notch in four rounds of breath-taking games that ultimately lead to members of just one team proudly hoisting the Stanley Cup over their heads.
For more information on Viamedia, visit www.viamediatv.com.
– Written by Jonathan Sims, VP Media Research, Viamedia