In the second year of their media rights deal with ESPN and TNT, NHL viewership has dropped 22% entering the All-Star break compared to this time last year. It’s obviously not great news, and that should raise red flags, but it seems like there’s more to this than people just simply not tuning in.
Jori Negin-Shecter of Yahoo Sports Canada wrote up some reasons why viewership is down this season. For starters, the number of nationally televised games shown by February has doubled from 27 to 54. Not only does that result in less attractive matchups being showcased earlier in the season, but the NHL had to deal with media blackouts and direct competition from the NFL. Two things they didn’t really to have to face last year.
The NHL has also experienced some tough luck this season. One example is this year’s Outdoor Classic. The game at Fenway Park featured the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins. That’s a great matchup, but it competed against the Rose Bowl, which had Penn State. State College is a little over two hours away from Pittsburgh so a sizable portion of the Pens’ fanbase also roots for Penn State. And when push came to shove that day, those fans were probably watching the Rose Bowl.
That being said, while there are reasons to explain the drop, there are still things happening that’s causing fans to be upset with the hockey broadcasting landscape and potentially resulting in them tuning out. Most teams having regional deals with Bally Sports, which has limited exposure, along with more games placed on streaming services like ESPN+ and the emergence of digital ad boards during games, has caused frustration among fans. Is that contributing to the drop in viewership? It’s tough to say. Though it doesn’t help the situation.