Apr 4, 2019; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres goaltender Carter Hutton (40) moves in to defend the goal defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (55) clears the puck from the crease during the first period against the Ottawa Senators at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a familiar refrain for the Buffalo Sabres. They miss the playoffs, but are in the top five in local NHL television ratings. This season, the Sabres lead the pack among most of the American NHL teams. Per the Sports Business Journal, Buffalo saw a huge 75% spike in the ratings on MSG compared to last season, leading to an average 8.13 rating. This strong average comes despite the fact that the team has missed the playoffs for eight straight seasons.

The Sabres’ ratings easily beat the second-ranked team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who garnered a 6.38 average rating on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh. The Penguins did see a 10% increase from the 2017-18 season.

Buffalo and Pittsburgh have shared the top spot over the past ten years, with the Pens on top for seven seasons and the Sabres claiming the top spot for three out of the last four years.

While Buffalo had a huge spike in its ratings, the biggest overall increase belongs to the Vegas Golden Knights, coming off a Stanley Cup Final appearance in its inaugural season of 2017-18. The Golden Knights experienced a whopping 116% rise in its ratings on AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain. That made for an average 4.05 rating, which was good for third highest locally.

The Colorado Avalanche had a 49% increase on Altitude. The New York Islanders received a 41% hike from last season on MSG Plus.

In contrast, the New Jersey Devils experienced both the largest ratings decline and lowest average rating. The ratings for the Devils on MSG Plus dropped 59% to a 0.24 average.

The Los Angeles Kings on Fox Sports West dropped 35% for the second biggest decline in the league, leading to a 0.35 average rating, the fourth-worst mark in the NHL.

Sports Business Journal compiled the data for 22 of the NHL’s 24 American teams, with only the Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators excluded.

The top five teams in the NHL’s American markets are as follows.

  1. Buffalo Sabres (MSG Western New York) — 8.13 average rating
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins (AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh) — 6.38
  3. Vegas Golden Knights (AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain) — 4.05
  4. St. Louis Blues (Fox Sports Midwest) — 3.66
  5. Minnesota Wild (Fox Sports North) — 2.9

The bottom five in the league look like this:

18. Arizona Coyotes (Fox Sports Arizona) — 0.44 average rating
19. Los Angeles Kings (Fox Sports West) — 0.35
20. Florida Panthers (Fox Sports Florida) — 0.26
21. Anaheim Ducks (Fox Sports Prime Ticket) — 0.25
22. New Jersey Devils (MSG Plus) — 0.24

Overall, the league’s ratings were relatively flat for the 2018-19 regular season, down 1% from last season. Twelve teams saw ratings increases, while ten were down from ‘17-‘18.

A local team’s ratings are normally dependent on fan interest and based on how it did the previous year. But the Buffalo Sabres have managed to buck that trend. Despite not making the playoffs (again), the team dominates its market and even managed to increase its ratings by a huge margin. Fan loyalty certainly helps, and maybe fans will be rewarded down the road with a postseason appearance in the near future.

[Sports Business Journal]

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013.

He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television.

Fang celebrates the four Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.