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Strong RSN First-Round Playoff Ratings: Up For NBA; Down For NHL (So Far)

NBA ratings for the regional sports networks cumulatively this season were down 18% compared to the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season, but like a LeBron James-led Miami Heat team, the numbers are peaking in the later going. NBA playoff ratings were up for seven of the 10 RSNs whose home teams made it into the playoffs both last season and this year.

Meanwhile, NHL ratings, which were up a cumulative 38% for the RSNs in the shortened 2012-13 season, are currently down for the playoffs, with only two of the seven RSNs whose home teams made it into the playoffs in consecutive years up in the post-season ratings so far.

This is according to Nielsen data, in games played through Tuesday May 7.

Cumulative ad sales for the RSNs’ regular season telecasts were up double-digits for both sports, with the NBA up by 68%, and the NHL by 10%. And marketers who weren’t in the regular season RSN NBA and NHL telecasts have jumped on board for the playoffs, according to Craig Sloan, senior VP, national advertising sales for Home Team Sports, a division of Fox Sports Media Group.

HTS sells national ad inventory for the Fox RSNs, but also for some of the Comcast RSNs, as well as for MSG and NESN. Sloan says new NBA playoff advertisers include Avis, Dominos, Wendy’s and Bacardi. New advertisers in the NHL playoff telecasts include Avis, Apple, General Motors and Dairy Queen.

In terms of RSN ratings, the NHL still has a chance to catch up this post-season; for the NBA, it’s game over. RSNs had the TV rights for only the first round of games for teams in their home markets. For the NHL playoffs, each RSN has five games in the first round, along with NBC Sports Network. Then NBC Sports Network and NBC get the remainder of the telecasts. Since the NHL regular season extended later than usual because of the lockout, the first-round playoffs are still underway.

Sloan says while the NBA regular season ratings were down for the RSNs, the playoff ratings in some of the markets were up close to 50% over regular season ratings, clearly a benefit those new playoff advertisers have taken advantage of.

Sloan says despite the lower ratings for the NBA telecasts this season, it was a successful season on the sales front. “From a ratings perspective, we were coming off an all-time high NBA season last year,” he says. “And it’s always hard to compete the following year with a shortened season the prior year, in which every game is like a playoff game.”

Sloan says the regular season RSN NBA ratings this year were up 2% over the last full season, in 2010-11.

The RSNs producing the largest first round NBA telecast ratings were Sun Sports, which is the home RSN for the Miami Heat, and Fox Sports Oklahoma, which televises the Oklahoma City Thunder games. Sun Sports household ratings for the playoffs this season were 11.2, compared to a 6.3 last season. Fox Sports Oklahoma ratings were 11.2, compared to a 7.6 last season.

Other RSNs whose playoff ratings were up include Fox Sports Southwest, which covers the San Antonio Spurs (8.1 vs. 6.6); Fox Sports Indiana, which covers the Indiana Pacers (6.3 vs. 5.4); Altitude, which televises the Denver Nuggets games (4.1 vs. 3.9); MSG, which televises the New York Knicks (3.6 vs. 2.6); and Prime Ticket/Fox Sports West, which televises Los Angeles Clippers games (1.39 vs. 1.36).

Some NBA playoff ratings were down. The largest declines were CSN New England, which televises the Boston Celtics games, down to a 3.2 from a 6.1, and CSN Chicago, which televises the Chicago Bulls, down to a 5.1 from a 7.2.

While a return to a standard-length season hampered NBA regular season ratings for the RSNs, the shortened NHL season helped RSN regular season ratings. Sloan says 10 of the 23 NHL teams covered by the RSNs produced ratings increases for the regular season.

“Our national aggregate audience for regular season NHL telecasts was about 2 million viewers for each regular season night,” Sloan says.

Playoff ratings so far have not matched the success of the regular season as far as increases; however, the ratings for last season’s NHL playoffs in some markets were very high.

Root Sports, which televises the Pittsburgh Penguin games is averaging a household rating of 20.4 so far in the first round, compared to 19.9 for last season’s first round playoffs. The only other RSN up from last season’s NHL playoffs is CSN Chicago, which televises the Chicago Blackhawks and is averaging an 8.9, compared to a 7.7 last season.

Some of the RSNs, while down compared to last year’s playoffs, are still producing solid ratings. Fox Sport Detroit, which covers the Detroit Red Wings, is averaging a 9.3, compared to a 10.1 last season; Fox Sports Midwest, which covers the St. Louis Blues, is averaging an 8.3, compared to a 9.6 last season; while NESN, which covers the Boston Bruins, is averaging a 9.6, compared to a 13.6 last season.

On cable, NBC Sports Network’s regular season NHL viewership was up 18%, and with an average 392,000 viewers per telecast, was the most-watched regular season on cable in 19 years. ESPN and ESPN2 averaged 474,000 viewers for regular season hockey during the 1993-94 season.

NBC’s regular NHL telecasts this season averaged about 1.5 million viewers, up 15% over last season, making it the most-watched season on the network since the 2005-06 season, when NBC regained the NHL broadcast network TV rights.

On ESPN, the first round of the NBA playoffs averaged a 2.0 household rating, down from a 2.1 last season, which was a record high for the network. First round playoff games on ESPN2 averaged a 0.8 rating, up 14% from last season’s 0.7.

On ABC, the first round of the NBA playoffs averaged a 3.4 rating, flat from last season’s comparable playoff telecasts.