Marketers wanting to reach those elusive millennial men should be looking to grab some scatter advertising in the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs on NBC Sports Network and CNBC cable networks, as well as NBC broadcast network. At least right now, it seems advisable to lock in some inventory through the Stanley Cup finals, based on playoff-to-date ratings.
Viewership for the first playoff games on NBCSN are up 61% compared to the same period last season and CNBC’s telecast of seven games is up 25%. NBC’s coverage of Saturday’s Chicago Blackhawks-St. Louis Blues game drew 52% more viewers than a comparable game last year.
“There are very few places on television to reach millennial men and hockey, especially playoff hockey, is one of them,” says Seth Winter, executive VP of sales and marketing for NBC Sports Group. Winter says the hockey audience on the network includes a sizable number of men in their 30s, who are affluent, well-educated and not traditional TV viewers.
Winter also says large numbers of millennial men are watching the hockey playoffs at bars so marketers are getting value added in the demo.
At this point early in the first round of the playoffs, Winter says about 90% of the commercial inventory is sold out across all the NBC networks televising the games. However, he also points out that because the telecasts so far are over-delivering advertiser guarantees, inventory being held for audience deficiencies will be put back up for sale.
What’s helping drive viewership is the new NHL playoff format that emphasizes more divisional rivalries in the first round. The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are meeting in the playoffs for the first time in 17 years, while the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues are playing for the first time in 12 years. Also, games are blacked out in the home markets during the first round on cable. And Winter points out that all the playoff teams are from U.S. cities except for Montreal, and many of them are from major markets such as New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago and Boston.
Winter says the U.S. team’s strong showing in the Olympics, particularly its win over Russia, cast a spotlight on the NHL following the end of the Sochi Games and the return to the NHL regular season.
The playoff games have also been exciting so far with 12 games decided by one goal and six teams having come back to win after being two goals behind. Last year there were only eight two-goal comebacks throughout the entire playoffs.
NBCSN through the first 10 games is averaging 621,000 viewers per game, compared to 386,000 in last year’s playoffs through 10 games. CNBC, which is televising Stanley Cup playoff games for the third year, is averaging 295,000 viewers, up from 236,000.
NBC drew 1.9 million viewers for the Saturday Game 2 of the Blackhawks-Blues, up from 1.2 million viewers for the comparable playoff game in that window in 2013.
Ratings for NBC's Sunday afternoon's two national games are not yet available but the overnights were up 14% and 20% in the metered markets.
All the games on NBCSN and CNBC have also been streamed via TV Everywhere to authenticated customers. Games are averaging 1.1 million minutes consumed with 26,000 unique viewers.
The playoff ratings success for the NBC networks comes following a solid regular season that saw NBCSN, which has televised NHL games since 2005, averaging 351,000 viewers per telecast—the highest total for a full regular season ever. And NBC regular season telecasts averaged 1.7 million viewers, up 22% over last season, and topping its previous best of 1.65 million for 2010-11.
Winter says ad inventory for the regular season telecasts were sold out for the fourth quarter and sellout levels in the first and second quarter were up in the 90% range. Playoff ad sales are continuing that trend. He says playoff ad inventory is sold out at low-to-mid 90% levels but he expects that to accelerate after the first round when marketers see what the second round matchups will be.
“There will be some surges of buying as the playoffs go on,” he says.
A majority of the advertisers in the playoffs are also regular season advertisers and Winter says those advertisers are accommodated first over those coming in just for the playoffs. But he says at this point, avails are open to everyone.
Strong ad categories include automotive, beer, QSR, retail, car rentals and insurance, Winter says, “most of the traditional sports advertiser categories.”
Winter adds that one advertiser, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, signed St. Louis Blues player T.J. Oshie, who starred for the U.S. Olympic team and was a big factor in the team’s win over Russia, to appear in a new commercial that is airing during the playoffs.
For marketers who might not be traditional sports or hockey advertisers but who are planning campaigns for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and graduations and want to reach the largely male millennial audience, there are ad units left through the Stanley Cup finals on NBC.
“There’s still about another month and a half of playoff hockey left,” Winter says, so there’s still time for marketers who want to reach that young male audience to come in. “We don’t have any sponsorship opportunities left, but we do have commercial units.”
Last season’s 55 Stanley Cup playoff games on NBCSN averaged 1.2 million viewers per game. The playoff viewership for the combined 72 games on NBCSN and CNBC averaged 1 million viewers per game, making it the sport’s most-watched playoff on cable since 1999 when ESPN and ESPN2 averaged 1.02 million.
Last year’s Stanley Cup finals on NBC (Games 1, 4 and 6) and on NBCSN (Games 2 and 3) averaged 5.8 million viewers, making it the most-watched Stanley Cup final series since 1994. Game 6 on NBC drew 8.2 million viewers.