This week the NHL will face off against the NBA in a fight for your eyeballs. On paper, it's a mismatch. Despite teams from the nation's two largest markets competing against one another, hockey will be lucky to get a fifth of the average Nielsen viewers. Two nights ago the NHL Western conference finals between the L.A. Kings and Chicago Blackhawks set an NHL playoff record with a 3.2 Nielsen rating. Still, that was less than a third the average audience for last year's NBA finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio.
According to StubHub, I could get red-line seats to see the Kings play the New York Rangers for $802 per ticket. It would cost me $2,727 to sit at center court for Game One of the Heat / Spurs rematch that starts tomorrow. With all due respect to the wonderful, historic city of San Antonio, it should never cost three times as much to go an event in South Central Texas during the month of June when there is a competitive offering taking place one night earlier at a place just 27 miles down the road from Disneyland.
Frankly, hockey is just happy to be here. The NBA will sign a $2 billion-a-year TV deal in 2016. The NHL gets paid $200 million a year by Comcast's (CMCSA) NBC division and they're grateful for it. As recently as 2007 NBC cut away from overtime in a conference finals game in favor of airing a two-hour pre-show for the Preakness horse race. Last year the NHL cancelled half their season and it actually improved the product.
If the leagues squared off 10 times the NBA would win nine ... but not this year. Not tonight. This year America will tune out of the King Lebron James show. Instead the country will turn on hockey to see Martin St Louis, a 38-year-old guy with a French name whose mom died unexpectedly on Mother's Day weekend. St Louis is 5'8" of heart and terrible facial hair, and he leads the team in points during the playoffs. Lebron is a foot taller than St. Louis and he makes $42 million a year. He deserves our admiration but this year, if only for tonight, St .Louis, the Rangers and hockey have earned this moment.
If there is justice, if there are miracles, tonight Americans will watch hockey. At least I hope they do, and so does the NHL. Faceoff is 8pm on NBC. Enjoy.
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