Those of us here at PCHA aren’t above getting into unanswerable, idiotic drunken arguments that get repeated year after year after year. One of them is the relative popularity of sports in the U.S. While everyone basically agrees that football is the king, The Dilemma argues that baseball is number two and vibrant; I argue that basketball will soon be number two if it isn’t already since nobody under 30 knows what baseball is; and the Husky Canadian likes to pretend that we still live in a world where the NHL is part of the Big Four, not looking in at the Big Three with longing.
The problem, of course, is that each sport is different, and that finding any sort of control group is nearly impossible. That’s why the ratings from Sunday night are so enlightening, at least as far as the NBA and NHL are concerned. You had a Finals game in each sport, starting and ending at the same time, both on national broadcast networks, and both featuring well-known, old-school teams from Top 7 television markets.
As with anything, there were some variables between them. In the basketball corner, the game was closer and it featured arguably the league’s most famous player (of course, no hockey player is truly famous which isn’t really the NBA’s fault). In the hockey corner, Philly and Chicago were playing Game 5 of a tied series, while the Lakers and Celtics were only in Game 2.
The results? Well, let’s just say that any talk of hockey getting back to Big Four status is indeed premature. The NBA Finals got a 10.9 overnight rating; the NHL got a 4.0. In the demo of 18-49, the NBA got a 6.3 vs. 2.4 for the NHL. By every measurable statistic, the NBA had nearly three times more people watching their game.
The saddest part? The NHL is bragging about these numbers, because they are significantly less pathetic than what they’ve been drawing lately.
Leave it to Gary Bettman to insist on measurable proof on how badly he’s run his sport into the ground.