A week out from Super Bowl, the buzz has dwindled, and avid football fans are coming to the realization that the NFL season is officially over. Now what? The NHL and the NBA take center stage and have the chance to capitalize on the crossover audience. The quality of the broadcasts, league marketing endeavors, and providing fans with all-access opportunities will be essential to the leagues’ viewership and ratings.
Mike McCarthy, the award winning former head of MSG Networks, now co-chair of Manhattan Place Entertainment, a highly respected production house that builds campaigns for brands and properties alike, knows that the close to the NFL season is of immense value to both the NHL and the NBA. “The NHL in particular will benefit the most from the NFL season ending. The NHL has the largest crossover audience with fans having a lot of the same interests,” said McCarthy. Though there was concern about fans losing interest in tuning in to hockey games after the prolonged lockout, McCarthy contends that this is not currently a problem for many teams. “Most teams are reporting very high ratings since the lockout ended. The game has become more entertaining due to the condensed schedule and the fact that teams and fans alike realize that every game will matter.”
From a broadcast perspective, the NHL needs to draw in the passive fans so they become more interested in consistently tuning in. The advent of HDTV becoming mainstream and the building up of events like the Winter Classic has helped in this regard by improving the game-watching experience and fan affinity dramatically. McCarthy sees the game and its stars at the best they’ve ever been, supported by strategic partnerships which have elevated the visibility of the NHL. For instance, NBC Sports broadcasts have been a huge asset to the NHL, while the cross promotion of games on high rated sitcoms and NFL broadcasts have garnered vast interest from viewers.
The NBA will also stand to gain some of the NFL’s fans for remainder of the season. Since 2007, NBA ratings have increasingly risen, thanks to the resurrection of nationally recognized NBA teams, their star power, and their annual presence in the NBA Finals. Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals had the best rating for a basketball game in the contemporary NBA on ABC era, and the 2011 Finals held steady in the ratings department as well. Amazingly, both series drew over a 10 rating, beating the World Series in consecutive years for the first time ever. McCarthy attributes the success of the broadcasts largely to the NBA’s branding efforts and the fans’ familiarity with the league’s key players. “The marketing of the particular players themselves have been expertly handled. People know 50% more NBA players by name than they would have 10 years ago,” said McCarthy.
Internationally, there has been increasing interest in the NBA. In the 1980’s the NBA didn’t charge for television rights to build interest and loyalty. Now, 51 television stations in China’s 22 provinces broadcast games, including state-owned CCTV network, which shows games live in the middle of the night. In fact, televised NBA games have an average of 558,100 viewers and the NBA.com/China website averages 12 million hits a day. This avid interest in the NBA in China is “explosively positive” for the league and its international revenue streams.
With fans and viewership ultimately up for grabs now that the NFL season has ended, the NHL and the NBA have a lucrative opportunity to gain fans and increase ratings. With technological advances constantly changing the quality of the game-watching experience, it is up to the leagues and the networks to decide how to profit from and procure viewers and ratings going forward.