NBC will hit the jackpot with Bruins and Blackhawks

Elsa

Will the Bruins and Blackhawks crack the magic 10 million viewer ceiling?

Every year at Puck the Media, I do a Stanley Cup Final ratings preview. Just for fun, and to see how close I can guess it, I predict the viewership for the championship series. Enjoy.

A lot is being placed on the shoulders of the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Whether you enjoy or bemoan the promotion of an "Original Six" Stanley Cup, the fact is, the NHL is often able to sell that phony retro aspect quite well. Of course, the age of these two franchises may have nothing to do with why this series may set ratings records.

One could argue that the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks are more popular than they've ever been. Some might take umbrage with that statement if they followed the franchises in the '60s and '70s, but you have to cede the fact that they're at least more popular now than they were the last time each won a Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

Take this fact, for instance: Game 4 of the Bruins Eastern Conference Final series against the Penguins drew higher ratings than Game 7 of the Bruins 2011 East Final against the Lightning. Both took place on Friday nights, so you have to assume that more people are jumping on the bandwagon earlier. Similarly, the Blackhawks Game 5 win over Los Angeles was the highest-rated NBC game ever in Chicago, outside of the Stanley Cup Final. These are two big markets, sure, but more importantly they're two big markets that are as in love with (or "activated," to use a sports media word) their hockey teams as they've ever been.

So what to make of potential audiences for the Stanley Cup Final? Well, you have to remember that the way the NHL schedules the Finals is always going to be prohibitive. Ratings simply go down on Saturday because not as many people are at home. Putting two games on Saturday, including one on cable, means that ratings will stay a bit low until this series gets to Game 4 or so.

That said, what if we get a good, six- or seven-game series here? Absolutely, this series will break records for the highest-rated Stanley Cup Final in decades. Will Game 7 hit the 12 million viewers the Canadiens-Blackhawks Final did in 1971? Probably not, in this world of niche audiences. But this will be big, and it'll get a lot of people's attention, just via local audiences alone. You can probably count on 1.5-2 million viewers just out of Chicago and Boston. That bodes well.

For now, let's have some fun and handicap this stuff. As I do every year, I'll look at the network/cable competition that night (though it's lesser this year than in years past due to the lockout), and offer what I think a feasible audience might be. And, just for reference, numbers from the last four Stanley Cup Final, and some bonus numbers in case of a Game 7:

Game 1 (Wednesday, June 12 at 8 p.m. ET, NBC)

2012, Los Angeles vs. New Jersey (NBC): 2.9 million
2011, Boston vs. Vancouver (NBC): 4.56 million
2010, Philadelphia vs. Chicago (NBC): 4.34 million
2009, Pittsburgh vs. Detroit (NBC): 4.51 million

Competition: The American Baking Competition on CBS and Masterchef on Fox are new, as well as burn-off episodes of ABC sitcoms The Family Tools and How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life). Nothing very much new on the major cable networks, either. ESPN has Wednesday Night Baseball (Cleveland vs. Texas) while ESPN2 has the WNBA. The NHL has been the most-watched program on cable for the last two Wednesdays, there's no reason to think it won't soar to ratings highs yet again this time around.

Prediction: 5.0 million

Game 2 (Saturday, June 15 at 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

2012, LA vs. NJ (NBC): 2.94 million
2011, BOS vs. VAN (NBC): 3.57 million
2010, PHI vs. CHI (NBC): 5.91 million
2009, PIT vs. DET (NBC): 5.33 million

Competition: Saturdays are weird, as television goes. There's rarely much new programming, and audiences don't watch whenever there is any. Fox continues it's prime-time baseball series, airing Yankees vs. Angels in most of the country. The White Sox will be featured in Chicago, though they won't be much of a threat. A story today in Sports Media Watch pointed out that White Sox and Cubs ratings combined this season did not come close to Blackhawks local ratings this season.

NBCSN probably won't hit records with this one, but it should be a very solid audience for cable on a Saturday.

Prediction: 3.2 million

Game 3 (Monday, June 17 at 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

2012, NJ vs. LA (NBCSN): 1.74 million
2011, VAN vs. BOS (NBCSN): 2.76 million
2010, CHI vs. PHI (NBCSN): 3.6 million
2009, DET vs. PIT (NBCSN): 2.95 million

Competition: Here's where I expect NBC Sports Network to hit a record. The current one is 4.0 million for Team USA's Gold Medal win in Olympic soccer last year. An even series would likely help, but I think Game 3 will have enough juice to break that prior mark. ESPN has Cubs-Cardinals, ESPN2 has the College World Series, NBC has The Voice and ABC has The Bachelorette. Those may draw viewers away, but I still expect big things out of this one.

Prediction: 4.1 million

Game 4 (Wednesday, June 19 at 8 p.m. ET, NBC)

2012, NJ vs. LA (NBCSN): 2.07 million
2011, VAN vs. BOS (NBCSN): 2.71 million
2010, CHI vs. PHI (NBCSN): 3.12 million
2009, DET vs. PIT (NBCSN): 3.44 million

Competition: Assuming the series is 2-1 and not 3-0, the numbers should be exceptional for this one, given it's NBC and on a Wednesday night. ESPN has the College World Series, while CBS, Fox and ABC all have the same new programs they did against Game 1. The numbers for this one will likely tell us if we're headed for a record-breaking Stanley Cup Final or just a good one.

Prediction: 5.5 million

Game 5 (Saturday, June 22 at 8 p.m. ET, NBC)

2012, LA vs. NJ (NBC): 2.8 million
2011, BOS vs. VAN (NBC): 4.35 million
2010, PHI vs. CHI (NBC): 5.95 million
2009, PIT vs. DET (NBC): 4.28 million

Competition: Again, while Saturday is the preeminent hockey night in Canada, it just isn't a big TV evening in the States, so I predict numbers will go down, despite the lack of competition. Red Sox-Tigers and Rangers-Cardinals will lead the MLB night for Fox, so numbers in Boston may be a little hampered, but the Bruins will probably crush the Sox. Neither of those two games is a big needle-mover for MLB and Fox, so the hockey game should be fine, if down from Game 4.

Prediction: 5.05 million

Game 6 (Monday, June 24 at 8 p.m. ET, NBC)

2012, NJ vs. LA (NBC): 4.93 million
2011, VAN vs. BOS (NBC): 5.26 million
2010, CHI vs. PHI (NBC): 7.57 million
2009, DET vs. PIT (NBC): 5.45 million

Competition: The overtime really drew a lot of people to that Blackhawks-Flyers Game 6, but the fact is, when a team can clinch, people tune in. The Stanley Cup will be in the house and a lot of people will be watching. I'm reticent to put this Game 6 above that Chicago-Philly series, but it wouldn't shock me if a good game beat it. Aside from The Bachelorette and baseball, most of this Monday night is unobstructed for hockey.

Prediction: 6.8 million

Game 7 (Wednesday, June 26 at 8 p.m. ET, NBC)

2011, BOS vs. VAN (NBC): 8.54 million
2009, PIT vs. DET (NBC): 7.99 million
2006, EDM vs. CAR (NBC): 5.29 million
2004, CGY vs. TB (ABC): 6.29 million
2003, ANA vs. NJ (ABC): 7.17 million
2001, NJ vs. COL (ABC): 6.95 million

Competition: I would be shocked if a Game 7, played in these two markets on a Wednesday night, didn't top all of these games you see above. Is 10 million viewers out of the question? Perhaps, but the numbers will be big if we get here, no doubt. The competition doesn't matter when a big-market Game 7 is in play. I'd love to see it get here, just to see what it would draw. Hopefully we get a seven-game Stanley Cup Final to make up for a couple of weak conference finals, and the audiences grow as much as possible.

Prediction: 9.2 million

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