If you’re like me, you were glued to the Stanley Cup Final because you love the sport that much. With no rooting interest, and well it’s my job, I still found interest in one of the more predictable Cup Finals in recent years. But was that a reason for U.S. viewers to not tune into the Stanley Cup? Or was it because there was a Canadian team in the Final? Or was it because it’s July and it’s beautiful outside and no one wants to sit indoors when they could be at a bonfire or enjoying a drink on a patio?
Or was it all of these reasons combined? It’s probably that.
Stanley Cup Finals U.S. TV viewership:
Game 1: 1.57 million viewers (NBCSN)
Game 2: 1.65M (NBCSN)
Game 3: 2.38M (NBC)
Game 4: 2.92M (NBC)
Game 5: TBD
Streaming won't add much. Tracking as second-least watched SCF since 2007. Up over 2020 (2.15M). Way down from 2019 (5.47M).
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) July 9, 2021
Even without the final numbers coming in from the viewership of Game Five and the streaming numbers, the 2021 Stanley Cup Final between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning, which saw the Lightning repeat as Stanley Cup champions in five games, was the second-lowest rated Cup Final on NBC since the 2007 matchup between the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators. While the overall numbers were up from last year’s Cup Final in the COVID bubble postseason, that’s nothing to really ride-home about for the NHL in the U.S.
This was the final year for the NHL on NBC, with the 2020 and 2021 Cup Finals bringing up the rear in viewership during the 16-year run of the network airing the Stanley Cup Final.
A few things of note over the 16-year run and the U.S. viewership numbers:
• Three of the five least-watched Cup Finals in the U.S. involved a Canadian team (Montreal in 2021, Ottawa in 2007, and Edmonton in 2006)
• This year’s Game One was the third-lowest rated Game One in the 16 years of the Cup Final on NBC. The other two lowest-rated Game One’s involved the two aforementioned Canadian teams with Ottawa and Anaheim’s Game One in 2007 being the least-watched.
• The top-three most-watched Stanley Cup Finals on NBC in the 16-years of the network, on average, all involved the Chicago Blackhawks. The 2013 Cup Final against the Boston Bruins being the most-watched Final in the last 16 years, drawing a 3.3 rating and an average of 5.8M viewers per game.
While things were bad in the U.S., the Canadians tuned-in to watch the Canadiens in record numbers.
It’s no secret that having a Canadian team in the Cup Final is the secret to having incredible viewership numbers in Canada. The last time we’ve seen TV ratings like this in Canada was when the Vancouver Canucks were in the Cup Final against the Bruins in 2011.
There’s plenty of excuses for the bad numbers in the U.S. Like I said before, we are in the middle of July, this was a predictable Final, and you have two teams that don’t draw incredible numbers for the average U.S.-based casual hockey fan. But it’s all denying the fact that the sport and the league are so niche, that half of the time you go to a sports bar and ask for them to put on the Stanley Cup Final game, they take 15 minutes trying to find the channel it’s on.
Over the years, the NBC home for the NHL became stale. There’s no denying that NBC did SO MUCH for the league as far as presentation and innovations, like the Winter Classic, but with the on-ice product rarely changing year-over-year, the way the game gets presented needs to evolve.
NBC barely evolved.
The hope is that the change from NBC to the dual-broadcast homes of ESPN and Turner Sports (TNT) will provide more eyes on the league and bring a fresh start for the way the game is promoted and presented to the casual fans. The NHL is always going to get the die-hards like myself to watch the Cup Final and regular season games not involving our favorite teams, but drawing in those without strong rooting interests or presenting the Cup Final as must-see television should be the focus for the new networks heading into the 2021-22 season and beyond.