Despite all the complaints from fans about ESPN/ABC broadcasters, fans continued to come out and watch the NHL through the Stanley Cup Final. Having a network television broadcast partner helps. The NHL saw a significant boost in the ratings when the game shifted from ESPN to ABC for the Stanley Cup Final. Like the first three rounds, the NHL saw a rating bonanza for the Stanley Cup Final.
Even with other sports going on like the NBA and MLB, the NHL took center stage. People were talking about the Stanley Cup Playoffs because of the star power playing in the game. That star power carried over into the Stanley Cup Final. And with the Stanley Cup Final being awarded on Sunday night, all eyes were on the Colorado Avalanche to see if they could close out the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
What made this Stanley Cup Final so intriguing was that the Lightning were looking to become the first team since the 1980s New York Islanders to win three straight Stanley Cup Championships. Whether you like the Lightning or not, dynasties help bring an audience in. Fans were either going to see a dynasty continue or a new champion crowned. And boy were the TV ratings huge for the NHL on ABC for the Stanley Cup Final. In 2022, there was a new Stanley Cup Champion crowned.
The first round saw five Game 7s. In the second round, we saw the superstars take over. Moving to the Conference Finals we saw a combination of great goaltending and scoring from the top players. In the Stanley Cup Final, we saw the two best teams fight for the Stanley Cup, with the best team winning it. Regardless of where you were in the country you were tuning in.
Let’s take a look at how the NHL ratings for the Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final did.
Stanley Cup Final TV Ratings Skyrocket on ABC
For the first time since 2004, the Stanley Cup Final was broadcast on ABC. Funny enough the Lightning were also in the Stanley Cup Final that year. For the past decade, the NHL was broadcasted on NBC and the now-defunct NBCSN. But unlike the previous time the NHL was on ABC, ESPN did not broadcast a single game. Fans could watch the Stanley Cup Final on ESPN+ and Hulu as part of the new TV deal.
It is hard to compare the previous two years of television ratings because of the pandemic. But if you look at the numbers the 2022 Stanley Cup Final was up from 2020 and 2021. As mentioned in previous posts, NBC mailed it in last year when they knew they were not keeping the NHL package. The 2022 Stanley Cup Final averaged 4.6 million viewers. This is down from 2019 between the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins which averaged 5.3 million viewers.
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Every game averaged over 4 million viewers with Games 5 and 6 averaging over 5 million viewers. Game 6 between the Lightning and Avalanche averaged 5.8 million, the most-watched Stanley Cup Final game since Game 7 of 2019 averaged 8.7 million viewers. The least-watched game in 2022 was Game 2, which averaged 3.7 million viewers.
Even the demo was strong for the Stanley Cup Final. In the coveted 18-49 demo, the Stanley Cup Final averaged 1.33. That is a very strong number. Well above average.
In comparison here is how the 2022 Stanley Cup Final did against the previous ones:
2022 4.6 6 games Colorado over Tampa Bay
2021 2.4 5 games Tampa Bay over Montreal
2020 2.0 6 games Tampa Bay over Dallas
2019 5.3 7 games St. Louis over Boston
2018 4.9 5 games Washington over Vegas
2017 4.7 6 games Pittsburgh over Nashville
2016 4.0 6 games Pittsburgh over San Jose
2015 5.6 6 games Chicago over Tampa Bay
Conference Finals on ESPN and Turner Deliver for NHL
The strong viewership in the Stanley Cup Final was a carry-over from strong Conference Finals numbers on ESPN and Turner. ESPN broadcasted the Eastern Conference Final between the Lightning and New York Rangers. While TNT carried the Western Conference Final between the Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers.
The Eastern Conference on ESPN averaged 2.4 million viewers. It was the most-watched Conference Final since 2013. This was up 82 percent versus the 2021 Conference Final. Again, hard to compare the pandemic numbers but this is very good. Game 6 between the Rangers and Lightning averaged 2.8 million, which was up 83 percent compared to 2021. It was also the most-watched Conference Final Game 6 since 2002. ESPN benefited from an Original Six team making a deep run similar to 2013.
Over in the Western Conference, the series between the Avalanche and Oilers averaged 1.8 million viewers. It was the most-watched Western Conference FInal since 2015. That year the Los Angeles Kings took on the Chicago Blackhawks. During the four-game sweep, viewership was up 58 percent compared to 2021. It was also up 17 percent compared to 2019.
Game 4 between the Oilers and Avalanche overtime thriller, was the most viewed Western Conference Game 4 on cable since 2013. It averaged 2 million viewers peaking at 2.2 million. The four games were the most-watched Oilers games on US cable of all time.
Successful First Season For New NHL TV Deal
If you were the NHL coming into this season, you would have taken these numbers. Overall this was a successful first year being partners with Turner and ESPN. Both networks will use the offseason to make adjustments. Was everything perfect? No. But it was better than expected. Again despite all the critics, fans still watched the games.
The next time ABC will broadcast the Stanley Cup Final will be in 2024. Turner with their channels TNT and TBS will carry the Stanley Cup Final in 2023. You almost wonder if they find a way to get in on CBS.
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