It’s looking more and more like none of the NHL’s seven Canadian teams will make the playoffs this year; only the Vancouver Canucks are still somewhat in playoff contention, and they’re still a long ways out. This could produce only the second season in NHL history with no Canadian teams in the postseason (the other one was 1969-70), and many analysts think this “No, Canada” scenario could be potentially disastrous for Canadian broadcaster Rogers, which is already facing plenty of struggles and less-than-great ratings. However, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman doesn’t agree, telling Jonas Siegel of The Canadian Press he thinks the playoffs will do just fine in Canada regardless:
The NHL commissioner acknowledged in an interview that there is a sense of uncertainty regarding TV ratings in Canada, with no Canadian teams likely to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1970.
Still, he was hopeful that fans north of the border would tune in regardless.
Bettman said local teams “tend to draw better” in terms of ratings.
“But as long as the hockey is entertaining and exciting and competitive we’re hoping and expecting that fans will tune in and watch great hockey,” he added
…Bettman said the wealth of Canadian talent should be enough to attract interest, as should the appeal of exciting, competitive hockey.
From Jonathan Toews to Drew Doughty to Jamie Benn to Patrice Bergeron and Steven Stamkos, Canadian players will indeed be well represented come playoff time.
“Fifty per cent of the players in this game are from Canada so for people to suggest that there isn’t still a Canadian-centric focus I think is a little misleading,” Bettman said.
As Greg Wyshynski writes at Puck Daddy, though, this doesn’t seem that believable:
Yes, we can totally see all of Canada rallying behind Roberto Luongo and Aaron Ekblad’s Florida Panthers due to their provincial lineage.
The NHL has attempted in recent years to address this fan abandonment issue from a marketing perspective, attempting to paint the postseason as must-see regardless of which teams are playing. The playoffs have been promoted around the Stanley Cup itself as the ultimate prize, and as a tournament that demands committed, communal viewing from fans. (Commercials featuring pretty people wearing newly purchased Shop NHL gear all rushing to the local bar to watch games, for example.)
But it’s an uphill battle; hell, if Canadians aren’t making time for the playoffs because it only features teams from the lower 48, who’s watching at all?
In January, Yahoo’s Chris Zelkovich provided strong numbers-based commentary on how Canadian teams’ early exits in the 2015 playoffs hurt Rogers’ ratings, and how that could get even worse if no Canadian teams make this year’s playoffs:
As of this week, it is highly conceivable that not one Canadian-based team will make the playoffs. It’s too early to count out anyone from post-season play, but things certainly aren’t looking good.
That means things could get pretty bleak for Rogers in the second year of its 12-year, $5.2 billion gamble on the NHL. With no Canadian teams in the playoffs, ratings will tank.
And if you don’t believe that, just look at what happened last season. When Canadian teams were still playing, games involving those teams averaged more than 3 million viewers. Once the last Canadian team was eliminated, ratings dropped and ended up 20 per cent lower than the previous season.
With no Canadian team to generate interest, those numbers could drop again.
So, the “No, Canada” ratings question is if you buy Bettman’s (very self-interested) optimism, or the pessimism of those who cover the NHL and its ratings. For now, the latter seems much more probable, but Rogers executives will certainly be hoping the analysts are wrong.