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MBPT Spotlight: Three Months Of NHL Playoffs On NBCU Networks Offer Good Play For Millennial Men

Marketers wanting to reach those elusive millennial men will again have a good and lengthy opportunity when the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin on April 15, with games to be televised on NBCSN, CNBC and USA cable networks, as well as on NBC broadcast network.

With only a few days to go in the regular season, NBC Sports has sold about 90% of the TV commercial inventory for the always-protracted playoffs which included 93 games last season but could total as many as 105.

Seth Winter, executive VP of sales and marketing for NBC Sports Group, says the later rounds are better sold than the early rounds, but with 10% of the inventory left, there are still a good amount of avails left for brands looking to break the ice.

The NHL offers up one of the youngest sports telecast audiences with a big chunk of viewers affluent men in their 30s with six-figure annual incomes, Winter says. About 75% of the viewership is male.

For the fourth-straight year, the NBCU family of networks will televise every Stanley Cup playoff game nationally, and USA Network will be airing Cup games for the first time in 30 years. NBC will televise up to eight primetime games during the entire Cup playoffs, including a potential five during the Cup finals. NBCSN will again televise Games 2 and 3 of the Cup finals.

Every game will also be streamed live via NBC Sports Live Extra, which is available on desktop, tablets and mobile devices. During last season’s postseason playoffs, the 93 streamed telecasts drew a total of 1.52 million unique viewers.

Last season, NBC, NBCSN and CNBC combined to average 1.44 million viewers for the 93 playoff telecasts, the highest average since the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs, which averaged 1.56 million viewers.

On cable, NBCSN and CNBC averaged 1.1 million viewers for their combined 77 playoff game telecasts, up 10% from the 2013 cable average.

The 2014 Stanley Cup final game—Game 5 in which the Los Angeles Kings defeated the New York Rangers—drew 6 million viewers on NBC. Overall, the 2014 Stanley Cup Final series averaged 5 million viewers for the five games, down from the 5.75 million the Cup Final series averaged for six games in 2013. However, it was only the fifth Stanley Cup Final series to average 5 million or more viewers since 1994.

Last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs featured 46 one-goal wins and 26 overtime games, which furthered the excitement as the telecasts got deeper into the games.

Season-to-date NHL regular season ratings on NBC and NBCSN have drawn an average of 489,000 viewers per game, down 11% from the 548,000 average for the same period last season. NBCSN’s 84 NHL games have averaged 347,000 viewers, down 3% from last season’s 357,000, but that average could easily rise to reach last season’s with some key telecast matchups yet to be played and figured in.

The NHL telecasts this season have drawn a nice chunk of new advertisers. “We have 25 new partnerships across our NHL telecasts,” Winter says, including Kraft, SAP, Liberty Mutual, Kia and Dairy Queen.

Significant Buy-In

Among the NHL official sponsors that have made significant ad buys in the Stanley Cup playoffs are Bridgestone, Discover, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Gatorade, Geico, Honda, Kraft, McDonalds, MillerCoors and Pepsi. Kraft has been a sponsor of NHL telecasts in Canada for 10 years, but became an official U.S. NHL sponsor this season.

Winter says NBC Sports has a deal with SAP, where the software company will produce some predictive analytics during the playoffs on and the networks televising the games will drive traffic to the site.

Most active categories for playoff advertising include automotive, beer, QSRs, financial and insurance. One category where a brand may be able to come in and get some notice during the NHL playoffs is the wireless category. Verizon dropped out as an official NHL sponsor this season, so while the league searches for a new wireless partner, the Verizon competitors out there could come in and test the waters during the playoffs.

NBC Sports is getting ad rate hikes in the mid-single digits for its playoff hockey advertising and Winter says a big chunk of it was bought in conjunction with packages sold prior to the start of the regular season.

As far as playoff ratings guarantees go, Winter says they are built into the packages of advertisers who bought them earlier. He adds that guarantees can vary based on differences of the ad packages. However, marketers buying scatter ads for the playoffs will most likely be without guarantees.