Six months ago, the National Hockey League was receiving last rites. Entrenched in their third lockout in 19 years, the consensus in the sports media was that the NHL would go the way of VHS tapes.
“Fans are fed up.”
“Nobody will come to the arenas, or watch the games.”
Even Detroit Red Wings coach, Mike Babcock said, “Hate to say it, but we could end up like bowling” when referring to post-lockout viewership.
However, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs start, the NHL is, surprisingly on solid ground. It turns out fans did watch, both on television and in arenas.
According to the Sporting News, 21 of the 22 American based NHL teams saw a ratings increase, with the Penguins posting the highest local ratings of any sports team since 2007. NBC Sports Network also saw an 18% ratings jump and its Wednesday Night Rivalry games had seven of the top eight rated games in the season.
Attendance at NHL arenas was also healthy in the regular season. Sixteen teams were at 100% capacity or above according to ESPN.com. League stalwarts like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins lead the way in attendance, but smaller markets like San Jose and Ottawa and Vancouver also did well.
All of this bodes well for the NHL moving forward. The playoffs feature marquee match-ups and strong storylines. The NY Rangers and Washington Capitals have become one of the better rivalries in the league, the Islanders and their compelling history are relevant again, Sidney Crosby is back from injury and the Chicago Blackhawks are a powerhouse. This sets the stage for strong post season television rating and a chance to make the 2012-20013 season to be about hockey and not the lockout.
Clearly, fans have forgiven the NHL of their transgressions. The NHL may still be fourth in the pecking order of American sports leagues, and the league still has strides to make, but the NHL isn’t dead yet.