The Centennial NHL Hockey Season
The 2016-17 National Hockey League season promises to be a special one if for no other reason than this is the league’s 100th season of play. And a lot of “play” there will be as 30 teams will grind through an 82-game schedule over the course of six months from the middle of fall through the middle of spring. If my math is right, that comes to 1,230 regular season NHL games played over six months by the greatest hockey players in the world.
But beyond the sheer numerics, I’ve always considered hockey to be the most unique of the four major North American team sports (the other three being football, baseball and basketball.) Try playing a sport that requires the finesse and skill of a figure skater; the eye-hand coordination of a golfer; and the rough & tumble mindset of a professional football player. Professional ice hockey is all that, and a lot more!
My admiration for the game, however, should not obscure the fact that ice hockey doesn’t enjoy the same level of popularity as the other three major sports. That probably has something to do with the game 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 where one can depend upon deep frozen lakes and ponds.
Which is not to say ice hockey doesn’t have its rabid fans (including yours truly), and the fact of the matter is that the major NHL cable network (NBCSN) had been able to hold onto its U.S. household ratings and shares over the past two seasons despite a decided downdraft in overall television usage levels:
Last season, NBCSC carried over 90 NHL games, but the cable network was hardly alone as several regional cable networks (such as those affiliated with Comcast, FOX, as well as New York-based MSG) carried many more. The point to be made is that -- while the NHL has a national cable channel outlet -- viewing to hockey skews heavily toward the northern tier of the United States, as well as those markets that have an NHL team. As a surrogate for general fan interest in the game of hockey, we looked at viewing levels to the 2016 NHL All-Star Game that was played in Nashville, Tennessee on January 31st, 2016. Out of the Top 25 DMAs in terms of rating performance (minimum 164 Index relative to the national rating), every single one of them was either a Northern market and/or an NHL market.
(Source: Viamedia analysis comScore TV Essentials ® National Telecast Detail / TV Market data for the 2016 NHL All-Star Game (1/31/2016; 180 total minutes.)
They say a “picture is worth a thousand words”, so we’ve included a heat map for the 2016 NHL All-Star Game. TV markets with above average viewing are rendered in warm colors (red/orange), while markets with below average viewing are in blue. As you can see, the northern and northeastern quadrants of the country are a hotbed for hockey:
Hometown hockey fans have a reputation for being a bit rowdy… make that very rowdy. But they are also upscale with the highest rating (.62) peaking at homes with an annual income of $175,000 - $199,000. That’s two-thirds higher than the average rating (.37) across all tuning homes:
Local Cable Advertising
Local cable advertising demand for NHL Hockey has been very strong. Over the past two regular seasons, 370+ advertisers ordered nearly 10,000 30-second spots across 38 Viamedia local markets (one-half of our nationwide footprint.) That comes to an average of 26 spots per advertiser. And when we confine our analysis to only those markets that exhibited advertising in both years, we see a 9% rise in ad investments (on a per game basis) driven primarily by an increase in 30-second units.
Source: Viamedia analysis of B.I.G. internal database (“Sports & High Profile Tracker”) across the 19 markets that exhibited local cable advertising on NHL Regular Season Hockey over the past two seasons (2014-15 & 2015-16.) Copyright © 2016 by Viamedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved
The Importance of Regional Cable Networks
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, 93 cents were allocated to a regional cable network; 7 cents to a national cable network (NBCSN):
Local Cable Advertising Categories
In terms of local cable advertising categories, all major sports in America attract significant levels of automotive advertising. But in all the blogs we’ve generated in this space, we’ve never seen the amount that accrues to NHL Hockey – a remarkable 72%! That leaves 28% of advertising split amongst 22 other categories:
Source: Viamedia analysis of B.I.G.SM Sports & High Profile database for any and all local cable advertisers who invested in NHL Regular Season Hockey over the past two seasons (2014-15 & 2015-16) across any and all markets. Copyright © 2016 by Viamedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The NHL has morphed from a league comprised entirely of Canadians, to a worldwide consortium of the greatest hockey players on the planet. What has changed most is the utter speed of the game combined with stick skills and lightning fast reflexes. 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 others) glued to the TV set when the 100th NHL Season gets underway.