Monday, June 5, 2006

NHL's Strong Comeback Marred by Poor TV Ratings

NHL's Strong Comeback Marred by Poor TV Ratings
By Tarik El-Bashir and Thomas HeathWashington Post Staff Writers
Monday, June 5, 2006; Page E01

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stood before a sea of cameras in New York last July and promised the league would emerge from its canceled 2004-05 season with more excitement and an economic system that would give all 30 teams a shot at profitability.

As the Stanley Cup finals begin tonight, Bettman appears to have achieved most of his goals: scoring and attendance are up and revenues are healthy, rule changes have made the game faster and more thrilling, and any team -- even those from small markets -- can win, as the finals between the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers proves.

The big exception is television ratings -- a key revenue driver and measure of a sport's mass appeal -- which have gone from bad to worse. The NHL playoffs, mostly relegated to the Outdoor Life Network (OLN), a second-tier cable channel known for hunting and fishing programs and its Tour de France coverage, have barely registered with the American public.

NBC's ratings aren't great, either."You look at the playoff [ratings] numbers, and they have been beaten pretty soundly by poker and bowling," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.

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