In this year’s NHL Conference Finals, both the East Series (Rangers vs. Lightning) and the West Series (Ducks vs. Blackhawks) went to seven games. On Friday night, the Eastern Conference Finals were settled: the Lightning won the game 2-0 and the series 4-3. They won decisively in the Rangers’ home, Madison Square Garden and handed the Rangers their first game 7 loss in their last seven outings. Last night, the Blackhawks and the Ducks played their game 7 in Anaheim. The Blackhawks took a commanding 5-3 win to secure a date with Tampa Bay in the Cup Final. And NHL commissioner Gary Bettman better be glad that they did.
First of all, the absolute best match-up for the Final would have easily been Rangers-Blackhawks. This would attract the attention of two of the three largest media markets in the United States (New York and Chicago) and make for a generally very compelling and competitive series. This series would have also had stars abound; Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews for the Blackhawks and Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers. This series also would have featured two teams from hockey’s “Original Six”: along with the Rangers and Blackhawks, these were the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, and Detroit Red Wings. Not included with the “Original Six” were the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Anaheim Ducks.
I’m sorry, but when I think of hockey, I just don’t think of Anaheim, California and Tampa, Florida. Point being, there is not nearly as much hockey tradition and, much more importantly, market support in these two regions. For example, take the Lightning’s only Stanley Cup in their history. They played the Calgary Flames in one of the best Cup Finals in recent memory. The series went seven games, and the last four games were all decided by one goal. Take a guess how that series rated, but first, watch this video to get a sense of how intense and exciting game 7 really was.
So how were the ratings for that series? The series averaged a 2.6 rating for ABC and ESPN. Game 7 drew a 4.2 rating, but ratings always increase as the series gets further along. For context, last year’s Rangers-Kings match-up averaged a 2.8 rating, and that series only went five games. If it went to six or seven, the ratings would have assuredly been higher. In 2007, hockey was dealing with a nightmare match-up too: Ottawa vs. Anaheim. With games 1 and 2 of that series on Versus (which is now NBCSN), the rest of the series would be shown on NBC. However, game 3 of that series, on NBC, drew a 0.4 rating. 0.4. For reference, the lowest rated TV program for 2014 was the CW’s Masters of Illusion, and that elicited a 0.3 rating. That’s right, a show broadcasting magic tricks nearly matched one year’s game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals in viewership.
Lastly, there is an argument here of tradition. The Rangers and Blackhawks have tradition, as well as a history of winning and excellence. Oh, and the Blackhawks have what is easily the league’s coolest goal song:
The Rangers also have a really cool, originally composed goal song and another originally composed “Victory Song”, which was written in 1940 and is played every time the Blueshirts win. Here is the instrumental:
The bottom line here is that both teams are synonymous with the game of hockey. The Ducks and the Lightning cannot say this about themselves. Also, I know this will makes me a culprit of “palm tree profiling”, but I’ll do it anyway. The fact that both the Ducks and Lightning play in warm-weather climates hurts them in terms of marketability. People do the same thing I do: they think of hockey and they think of a handful of teams (Red Wings, Blackhawks, Bruins, Rangers, etc.), and rarely are they located in warm-weather cities. An example of this is the Los Angeles Kings: while they have won Stanley Cups two out of the last three years, they fall victim to potentially being under-marketed because they play in Los Angeles. However, a team that has not had as much success in the past five or so years, such as the Detroit Red Wings, are consistently marketed by the NHL; they are an “Original Six” team, and Detroit, in reference to the Red Wings, is often marketed as “Hockeytown”. So while it didn’t happen, a Ducks-Lightning final could have been disastrous for hockey.
But we better be glad it didn’t.