It’s too early to determine the specific causes for the significant dip in ratings, however, with early exits by several of the NHL’s historically big media markets such as Pittsburgh, Boston and Chicago, coupled with the unique circumstances surrounding this years playoffs, it’s not surprising that numbers have tumbled.
According to Sports Media Watch, through Tuesday, the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs averaged 724,000 viewers across NBC Sports’ TV and digital platforms — down 24% from the same point last year (957K). Second round games have averaged 977,000, down 35%. The declines come with the caveat that last year’s average includes two additional games on the NBC broadcast network, one of them a post-Kentucky Derby window that delivered the second-largest NHL audience on record, outside of the Stanley Cup final.
Though down overall, the postseason has drawn some of its largest audiences in the week since play was suspended. Monday’s clinching Game 5 of the Bruins-Lightning series averaged 1.42 million viewers on NBCSN — up 21% from the comparable Monday of last year’s playoffs (Blues-Stars Game 3: 1.18M) and the most-watched NHL game on cable since the season restarted August 1.
The Bruins’ season-ending loss ranks fourth overall regardless of network, with Boston in four of the top seven games. Three of the top seven games have come since play was suspended.
Tuesday’s Islanders-Flyers Game 5 averaged 1.21 million, down 27% from Bruins-Blue Jackets Game 3 last year (1.66M), but the second-most watched game on cable since the restart and 11th regardless of network.
The above numbers also come with a caveat. As of Monday, all Nielsen figures — for all programming — now include out-of-home data.
Western Conference games have not been nearly as strong. Avalanche-Stars Game 5 averaged 689,000 on Monday night and Canucks-Golden Knights 730,000 on Tuesday. The latter declined 32% from Sharks-Avalanche Game 3 in a similar window last year (1.07M).