NBCSN begins its coverage of the 2014-15 NHL regular season on Wednesday with an opening-night doubleheader, featuring the Boston Bruins hosting the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:30 p.m. in the first of 24 Wednesday Night Rivalry games that will be played this season, followed by the San Jose Sharks visiting the 2014 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings at 10 p.m.
The NHL on NBC and NBCSN posted record ratings for NBC Sports Group last season. It was not only the most-watched regular NHL season ever on NBC and NBCSN, but it also represented the most-watched Stanley Cup playoffs on cable in 17 years.
This season, all told, NBC and NBCSN will televised 103 NHL regular season games, with 14 on NBC and 89 on NBCSN. Every game will be streamed live via NBC Sports Live Extra.
Given last year’s numbers, it’s no surprise that advertising for all the NHL games in the fourth quarter on both networks is about 90% sold, according to Seth Winter executive VP, sales and marketing, NBC Sports Group.
“The NHL is a good ad sales story for us,” Winter says. “We are not only very well sold for fourth quarter but we are also pacing ahead in 2015 of all previous years as far as NHL sales go.“
Among the viewership records the 2013-14 regular season set for NBC and NBCSN: NBCSN averaged 351,000 viewers across 88 telecasts, making it the most-watched regular season since NBC Sports Group began its exclusive coverage of the NHL in 2005-06. Also, NBC averaged 1.68 million viewers over 13 games, making it the most-watched season since NBC secured the rights.
Last season, the Stanley Cup playoffs on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC averaged 1.45 million viewers per telecast, making it the second-most-watched NHL postseason since NBC Sports Group began its exclusive coverage in 2005-06.
The Stanley Cup Final, won by the Kings in five games over the New York Rangers, was only the fifth final series in 20 years to average more than 5 million viewers.
On cable, for the 77 playoff games, NBCSN and CNBC averaged a 0.66 household rating and 1.1 million viewers, ranking it the most-watched NHL playoffs on cable in 17 years (since 1997 on ESPN/ESPN2 when it averaged 1.2 million viewers).
All of which makes the ice a hot ad surface for Winter. “We work very closely with the NHL and when their sponsors renew they commit to a media investment with NBC,” he says. “And a lot of the partners this season have increased their commercial loads and made more significant media investments.”
Winter adds that all of the NHL advertisers “have two or three commercial units in each game and most of our regular NHL advertisers are investing across all our platforms that are involved with the NHL.”
Strongest ad categories include automotive, which Winter describes as “exceptionally strong,” quick service restaurants, insurance, beer and financial.
Winter says he expects scatter ad sales to pick up for first quarter when a lot of retailers and telcos are expected to jump in.
Since hockey has the longest season of all the major sports—eight months—Winter says a big chunk of first- and second-quarter ad dollars come in via scatter buys. And he is expecting a stronger scatter market for hockey this season without the Olympics in February and the World Cup to compete with.
“I love the fact that hockey is in the Olympics because it gives the sport and the NHL players a tremendous promotional platform,” Winter says. “But both the Olympics and the World Cup took a lot of sports ad dollars out of TV sports last season. Our NHL sales for first quarter this season are doing better than they did last season at this point and I am expecting a much more robust sports ad marketplace for both the first and second quarters.”
The NHL has 23 partners this season and the list includes many of the nation’s leading brands, including Bridgestone, Enterprise, Honda, Kraft, Miller Coors, MolsonCoors, PepsiCo, Sirius XM, Starwood, Ticketmaster, Discover, Geico, McDonald’s, Hershey’s and Procter & Gamble.
Bridgestone will again be the presenting sponsor of the outdoor 2015 NHL Winter Classic, this season between the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals, which NBC will televised on Jan. 1 at 1 p.m.
Last year’s Winter Classic on New Year’s Day drew 4.4 million viewers, the second largest audience in the five years that the Classic has aired. The five Classic telecasts have produced the five most-watched NHL regular season games in the past 39 years, with the largest audience being in 2011 (4.5 million).
For the third season, Discover will be the presenting sponsor of the NHL Thanksgiving Showdown game, which NBC will televise on Friday, Nov. 28 at 1 p.m. when the New York Rangers visit the Philadelphia Flyers.
To promote the annual telecast, a cobranded Discover/NHL float titled “Frozen Fall Fun” will be in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which NBC will televised on Thanksgiving morning, the day before the game.
NBCSN will televised the NHL All-Star Game from Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio on Sunday, January 25 and will also televise All-Star weekend events that Saturday and Sunday.
The Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks will each make 12 appearances across NBC and NBCSN, with seven other teams making 11 appearances.
NBCSN will televise most of its games on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights and beginning in January it will also televise a Sunday game most weekends.
NBC will also televise a Rangers/Flyers game in primetime at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 28. The remainder of the NBC telecasts will be on Sunday afternoons.
Winter says about 75% of the postseason advertising will be sold as part of season packages. But with the NHL season extending across more than an eight-month period, including the playoffs, there is plenty of time for marketers who want to jump in to do so.
The NHL telecasts are a good way to target the harder to reach millennial audience, Winter says. “Hockey is one of three sports that draw an exceptional amount of millennials, the other two being the NBA and Premiere League Soccer. Our primary viewer is between the mid-to-late 30s and early 40s, highly educated and more tech savvy than viewers of some of the other sports.”