Thursday, April 24, 2008

Redefining hockey's strong markets

The Bay Area's seasonal infatuation with the Sharks has returned, at least based on the local ratings from Tuesday's 5-3 win over Calgary. Comcast SportsNet Bay Area announced that its telecast of Game 7 drew a 4.6 average rating (approximately 111,000 households) and an 8.8 peak rating (212,000), the highest since Game 7 of the 2002 second-round series with Colorado that drew a 5.7.
I'm no ratings junkie, but those numbers sound pretty good to me.

Of course, a winner always brings in a bigger audience, and San Jose's had a good team for years. And hockey in California continues to rise in popularity, both in terms of people playing the game and watching it on television.

I think NHL fans would actually be rather surprised to see where some of the league's hotspots of popularity are in the U.S. The only really accurate portrait I have of that is the traffic that comes into this site, as with some new software (via Adify) I can see which U.S. metro areas visit most often.

Here are the top 30 for this month:

US Metro Area
1 Washington Dc 11.07%
2 New York 10.18%
3 Pittsburgh 8.40%
4 Philadelphia 5.22%
5 San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose 4.82%
6 Los Angeles 4.10%
7 Boston 3.83%
8 Chicago 3.28%
9 Atlanta 2.83%
10 Detroit 2.74%
11 Buffalo 2.48%
12 Dallas/Fort Worth 1.76%
13 Cleveland 1.59%
14 Minneapolis/Saint Paul 1.49%
15 Raleigh/Durham 1.41%
16 Denver 1.37%
17 Rochester-Ny 1.27%
18 Seattle/Tacoma 1.26%
19 Columbus-Oh 1.25%
20 Orlando/Daytona Beach/Melbourne 1.18%
21 Johnstown/Altoona 1.11%
22 Baltimore 1.03%
23 Phoenix 0.99%
24 Richmond/Petersburg 0.96%
25 Flint/Saginaw/Bay City 0.92%
26 Hartford/New Haven 0.90%
27 Syracuse 0.89%
28 Austin-Tx 0.85%
29 Saint Louis 0.84%
30 Nashville 0.83%

Other 19.16%

Now this is obviously, in part, affected by the huge blog audiences in Washington and Pittsburgh,as well as those team's recent successes, but you can also see the traffic coming from places like the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas and Raleigh/Durham.

The traffic to here is almost a 50/50 split between Canadians and Americans, and I'm always amazed at how diverse that U.S. audience is.

NHL markets not represented here: Miami and Tampa Bay, ranked 41st and 42nd. Kansas City is 59th, while Vegas is 54th.

If anything, based on internet traffic, there is more interest in Cleveland, Seattle or Hartford over a lot of the other relocation locales we've heard mentioned.

I present this more for interest's sake than anything. What would be more worthwhile would be to compare regional television ratings across the U.S., something that might be worth tackling in the off-season.

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At 4:05 p.m., April 24, 2008, Anonymous cynical joe said...

James, do you remember why exactly the Columbus area got an expansion team and not Cleveland? Was it that the NHL had had a previous bad experience in Cleveland, or was it an attempt to stay away from the NBA? I often wonder if the NHL and the NBA are really competitors, I guess they obviously are for corporate dollars but their fan bases seem very different without a lot of overlap.

At 4:11 p.m., April 24, 2008, Anonymous David Johnson said...

It is an interesting metric for measuring the hockey interest in various cities but one has to wonder if more traffic might inherently come from non-hockey markets simply because there is so little hockey coverage in their local markets that they have to go online to get hockey news. That said, San Jose has always done a relatively good job supporting the Sharks, while Washington and Pittsburgh are long time NHL cities gaining an insurgence of interest due to their recent success and the star players that play in those markets.

At 4:13 p.m., April 24, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Joe, I don't know that there was ever any official reasoning given, but Columbus was at the time the largest city without a professional sports franchise from the MLB, NFL or NBA. The NHL looked at it as an untapped market.

Columbus is also a lot bigger than anyone realizes.

At 4:15 p.m., April 24, 2008, Blogger Aaron said...

I actually saw those numbers this morning because I'm a Bay Area transplant who still reads the local sports sections and was pretty amazed. There has been some controversy with FSN/CSN Bay Area regarding who gets prime TV placement between the A's, Giants, Warriors, and Sharks who all share two channels. Sharks fans make a lot of noise when the games are unavailable, such as the first 10 minutes of game 1 vs Calgary which was lost to the completion of an A's game that went to extra innings. The typical argument against giving the Sharks the better placement has been that they draw the worst ratings (and also that the Giants own 30% of the network) but those numbers compare very favorably to Warriors games (in the 2-3 range) and they represent a huge increase over the average regular season game (something like a .9 if memory serves). The San Jose Mercury News recently had an article about the Sharks Ice complex in San Jose and how busy the facility is ( which illustrated how many people are not only watching and attending games, but playing the sport as well. The Sharks have been playing to 99+% capacity for years but there has always been a question of how many people care outside of those 17,496 who fill the Tank. Between figure skaters and hockey leagues the facility is basically in use from 5am until after midnight almost every day, and the number of players, leagues, and teams was surprising. It may not seem like much to an outsider but having grown up in the area and never played ice hockey I know nothing like this existed when I was a kid and the Sharks first came to town. What the Sharks have done is create an interesting model for long term growth in what are considered non-traditional markets.

At 4:46 p.m., April 24, 2008, Anonymous Anshu said...

I must admit I got a chuckle out of the fact that you get more interest from Austin, Texas than from Nashville.

Transplanted Canadians working in high-tech, maybe? Or is it a latent hotbed of hockey fandom just waiting for an expansion team?

At 4:57 p.m., April 24, 2008, Blogger Kel said...

Transplanted Canadians working in high-tech

I'm pretty sure that partly explains the increased ratings of the Sharks. They played against a Canadian team. Go to the Shark Tank for a game against a Canadian team and you'll see a considerable number of Canadian team jerseys.

The Sharks broadcasters are one of the most biased in the world, I'm pretty sure. I can't believe what I heard when the commentator claimed that Nolan kicked the puck in during game 7, during a slow-motion replay from above the net! It was a good goal and after the NHL ruling, he said, "Well, maybe the NHL didn't have all the camera angles; from our angle, he kicked it in." I saw the replay from YOUR TV angle, and there was no kicking motion before or during contact with the puck. He may have moved his skate a little bit, but that was clearly after the puck contact.

At 5:51 p.m., April 24, 2008, Anonymous Toni said...

I may be responsible for most of the Columbus traffic.

I have no idea why they're keeping the NHL team. There's no interest in the biggest draw (college kids and young professionals) and the team throws in the towel almost every year after not making the playoffs. The arena's gorgeous, and it's a shame that there isn't something better filling it.

However, C-bus is an excellent city, which is a lot bigger and more cultural than most people realize. We have more than just the Buckeyes (like a decent university behind that team and a booming arts district).

(I'm a displaced Pens fan, which accounts for how I found this site)

At 6:00 p.m., April 24, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in the Bay Area and there are a couple reasons why the Sharks have received such good support.

1) Prior to the Sharks arriving, all bay area pro sports teams were located in either Oakland or San Francisco. At various times the south bay area has tried to lure a team south but it hasn't worked. The Sharks are the first team that the San Jose area can really call its own.

2) Although not to the same extent as LA, many people who live in the San Jose area are not from there. Plenty of transplants from hockey cities to create some interest.

Both the bay area and the southern california area have the same issues. Large enough (and rich enough) populations to easily fill an arena 41 times a year but not enough general population interest to move the needle on television. I'm glad to hear that some people have been watching.

At 6:09 p.m., April 24, 2008, Blogger Nick said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6:13 p.m., April 24, 2008, Blogger Nick said...

James, that Austin number is from me. You've found me out - I'm on here a lot.

(seriously it probably is)

At 6:25 p.m., April 24, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Nick — I knew you were in Austin, but if it was all you, that'd mean you'd been here nearly 1,000 times in the first 24 days of April.

I hope for your sake that's not true.

At 6:27 p.m., April 24, 2008, Anonymous Andrew said...

...Austin, Texas ...

Transplanted Canadians working in high-tech, maybe? Or is it a latent hotbed of hockey fandom just waiting for an expansion team?

I have lived in Austin (a temporarily transplanted Canadian), and it actually is quite a hockey-mad place. They really support their minor league team (a Wild affiliate). During the Dallas Stars cup run, Austin had an incredible buzz.

James, another thing you may like to analyze is to divide those market numbers by the populations in those markets to see relative interest levels among the population. For example, Buffalo's relative interest must be higher than Detroit's if population were factored in.

At 6:36 p.m., April 24, 2008, Blogger andy grabia said...



At 7:22 p.m., April 24, 2008, Anonymous dr said...

i think i account for the syracuse traffic. i like the site but there isn't much to do here.

At 9:41 p.m., April 24, 2008, Blogger Pensgirl said...

I'm contributing to that DC statistic (live in Balto, work in DC, visit in both places) but it's pretty obvious where my loyalties lie teamwise. I would think that with transplantation generally and the difficulties faced in Rust Belt cities in particular, the hits per location don't tell an accurate story compared with hits per team of interest. It's an obvious point, but for many of us what the net has done is give us more access to the team(s) we had to leave behind.

That's not to take away from David Johnson's point that in some markets the 'net helps fill gaps in lacking local coverage. That's a fair point, and definitely one that would be contributing to other hits from the DC market where the local traditional media ignores the hell out of the Capitals.

At 9:56 p.m., April 24, 2008, Blogger The Falconer said...

So markets are more "wired" (or should we really say "wireless" now?) than others. San Jose, Atlanta and Washington all have a higher internet penetration rate that some of the more industrial markets. Plus I think every Caps fan has his/her own blog :)

At 12:35 a.m., April 25, 2008, Anonymous Seth Rorabaugh said...

I'm totally responsible for that .40 from Pittsburgh.

The Pensblog is responsible for the other 8.0.

At 2:16 a.m., April 25, 2008, Blogger LennyG said...

James, you should try google analytics as another program for some great in depth site analysis info on your blog.

At 9:03 a.m., April 25, 2008, Blogger Brett said...

Hi James,

I'd love, for curiosity's sake, to see the comparable numbers for Canada. I think it's pretty safe to assume where the major cities will fall, of course, but it's more the second- and third-tier towns in which I'm interested.

At 10:31 a.m., April 25, 2008, Anonymous pth component said...

Very interesting. Two markets worth discussing. The Seattle number is interesting (as James mentioned). There could be mounting pressure for a new arena to go up in Seattle(whether the Sonics leave town or not).I figure a new arena deal would also have to include an NHL team. Food for thought: Could Seattle knock off Vegas or KC for a potential expansion team? Also Austin. A growing area very much like Columbus(a state capital with a big school and powerhouse football team sandwiched between more established major league metro areas). Houston has seemingly cooled toward the NHL. Austin (with a new arena) could become a surprise player in an expansion/relocation derby.

At 12:51 p.m., April 25, 2008, Anonymous Kelpfreak said...

Another frequent visitor here from Austin, Texas; but a transplanted Californian, not Canadian.

Gotta say I get a lot more "Go Stars!" shouts in my direction when I wear my Sharks jersey on game days than jeers supporting Canadian clubs. Hockey is doing quite well in Texas, and was actually one of the reasons we chose to come here rather than Maryland.

At 4:41 p.m., April 25, 2008, Blogger Xtoval said...

Glad to see the other Austin fans of Mirtle writing in. I wouldn't say however that Austin is much of a hockey town. I was the only person watching the Bruins-Canadiens last Saturday night at one of Austin's most well-known sports bars (The Tavern). Two guys came later for the Avs-Wild game. But I do play fantasy hockey with a bunch of Texans, all who started following the sport when the Stars won in 99. I am a transplanted Manitoban, by the way.

At 4:50 p.m., April 25, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Next road trip: Texas. :)

At 10:49 p.m., April 25, 2008, Blogger Kevin said...

The Sharks broadcasters are one of the most biased in the world, I'm pretty sure.

You must not have heard many different announcing crews, then. Go listen to the Avalanche or Stars' crews, for instance.

At 5:16 p.m., April 28, 2008, Anonymous fultron said...

The Sharks broadcasters are one of the most biased in the world, I'm pretty sure.

Of course they are! Comcast (previously Fox) Sportsnet Bay Area is a local network. CBC/NBC/Versus strive to be impartial nationwide networks. CSN-BA makes no such claim and they are as homer as they come. Hell, they have Drew Remenda doing colour, and he was a Sharks assistant coach and hosts a weekly Sharks hype show on the same channel.

While the homerism is sometimes over the top, believe me, there are never any pretenses about it.


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