It pains me to admit this, but I know exactly why Stanley Cup Finals ratings are tanking this year.
First, a disclaimer.
It doesn’t totally pain me to admit this. Every time the playoff TV ratings show the slightest uptick, I get an e-mail from NBC. All in the name of self-promotion, I get it. But you can only read so many e-mails saying “through two days of the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, NBC Sports Network’s viewership is up 22% compared to the first two days of last year’s playoffs (600,000 vs. 490,000) …” before you begin counting variables.
Just not mine.
So keep those e-mails coming, NBC.
Something strange happened this week, however. The e-mails stopped coming. Seems as if NBC doesn’t want us to know that overnight ratings for Game 1 were off 25 percent from last year’s Boston-Vancouver opener, and Game 2 was down 12 percent from last year. And that was before Games 3 and 4 were relegated to NBCSN, which last year was called Versus and reached about 10 million fewer homes. NBC pulled the same switcheroo when it aired Games 3 and 4 of the Canucks-Bruins Finals.
But how can I not watch? The potential to crown the Kings for the first time in their 44 seasons of existence has captivated Los Angeles in an unexpected way. The team flew in Marcel Dionne for Game 4 for goodness sakes, not to mention all the token celebrity sightings (Will Ferrell, Alyssa Milano, etc.) in Staples Center throughout the playoffs. The biggest celebrity of the day, the Stanley Cup, was waiting in the arena bowels Wednesday. One of the many local sports-talk radio stations — not the news-talk station that normally carries Kings games — started airing pregame coverage around noon. That just doesn’t happen here.
I don’t know what it would be like for a Los Angeles-based NFL team to play in the Super Bowl, so I imagine it would sort of play out like this.
As Game 4 went on2 I started asking myself, “why wouldn’t other people be watching this?” I came up with a few reasons.
1. Star power. Tim Thomas is a star. Ryan Kesler became a star to casual hockey fans during the gold-medal game in the Vancouver Olympics two years ago. The Sedin twins look like each other. The 2011 Bruins also made a habit out of beating up the Canucks, which promotes stardom in some quarters. Brad Marchand wasn’t a household name when the 2010-11 season began, but he kicked Canuck butt at will — the same premise that launched Stone Cold Steve Austin. The formula works.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur is a bona fide star in this series, but he’s been outplayed by Kings counterpart Jonathan Quick. The 40-year-old isn’t riding into the sunset a winner, like the script called for. Drew Doughty will be a star. This series may prove to be his coming-out party, but fans aren’t tuning in to watch him — yet.
2. The suspense of a seven-game series made the 2011 Finals a compelling watch. The 2010 Finals were decided in overtime of Game 6. The 2009 Finals came down to a last-second save in Game 7. The 2012 Finals almost ended after Four games. Tell middle America to wake up when the Kings win.
3. Unlike the Blackhawks’ and Bruins’ championship droughts, the Kings’ Cup-less history is the collective property of only a few die-hard fans. Read more about that here.
4. The same reason Americans don’t watch soccer. The record3 for the fewest goals scored in a Stanley Cup final series was 10, set way back in 1927. Through three games, the Kings and Devils had combined to score 10. A 1-0 game would have been apropos; the 3-1 win by New Jersey (which included one empty-net goal) did little to dispel the perception that these teams can’t score.
I’m sure there are more reasons. Feel free to chime in with a few of your own.
1. The New York Times, normally conservative with its headlines, compared NBCSN to Siberia in this headline. Awesome.
2. I found a sports bar with access to Siberian television.
3. That year, the seventh-seeded Ottawa Senators upset the third-seeded Boston Bruins, winning the series 2-0-2. At least there aren’t ties in the Finals anymore.