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Ducks a Hit on TV, but NHL Struggles

May 08, 2003|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

With the Mighty Ducks headed for the NHL's Western Conference finals, there is excitement over hockey in Southern California.

The Ducks' series-clinching victory over the Dallas Stars Monday night earned a 2.7 rating on Fox Sports Net. That pales in comparison to the 14.1 rating the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs got on TNT that night, but a 2.7 is comparable to L.A. ratings for non-Laker NBA playoff games on cable.

However, across the country the television ratings for the NHL playoffs have been down. After three weeks, ABC's ratings are off 21% from a year ago. ESPN's ratings have dipped 14% and ESPN2's rating are down 20%.

ABC is averaging a 1.1 rating, down from 1.4. ESPN is averaging a 0.6 cable rating, down from 0.7, and ESPN2 is averaging 0.4 cable rating, down from 0.5.

ESPN spokesperson Diane Lamb points out that exclusivity during the conference finals -- when games can be carried only by ESPN or ABC -- should give the ratings a boost.

As for the Stanley Cup finals, ESPN has the first two games and ABC has the rest.

ABC vice president Mark Mandel blames the ratings dip partially on early-round upsets.

"There has been a fall-off from not having teams from markets that have been traditional hockey hotbeds for the NHL," he said.

Mandel cited Detroit, St. Louis and Denver as three of those markets. For example, the Colorado Avalanche's Game 7 loss to the Minnesota Wild in the first round registered a 12.2 rating in the Denver market on Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountain.

The overall ratings dip couldn't come at a worse time for the NHL. This is the fourth year of a five-year, $600-million television contract with ABC and ESPN. Negotiations on a new contract are scheduled to begin this summer.

There was hope that a ratings increase could mean an increase in U.S. television money, which now breaks down to about $4 million a team. But now it appears there could be a money decline for the already financially strapped league.

On top of it all, there is the threat of a lengthy work stoppage after next season.

The picture isn't much brighter in Canada. Saturday's Ottawa-Philadelphia Game 5 averaged only 702,000 viewers on Canada's CBC network.

Joel Darling, CBC senior executive vice president, told the Toronto Star that he could not remember a smaller playoff audience for a game with a Canadian team.

The CBC generally averages 1.7 million viewers during the second round for games involving a Canadian team. The average for second-round games not involving Canadian teams is 589,000 viewers.

However, Game 5 of the Duck-Star series Saturday attracted only 235,000 Canadian viewers. In Los Angeles, the number of viewers for Saturday's ABC telecast exceeded 500,000.

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