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Hockey's Two Solitudes Confirmed Again

By June 9, 2007

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Toronto Maple Leaf fans hate Ottawa. That was the theory when the Senators' playoff charge through the Eastern Conference failed to generate huge TV audiences in Canada, and it might account for the decline in ratings during the Stanley Cup Final:

CBC's coverage of the Stanley Cup final averaged 2.502 million viewers, an 18-per-cent dip from last year.
But before we label this a bad news story, read on:
This year's series between Ottawa and Anaheim drew the third-highest overall average for a Cup final on CBC in the last 10 years and sixth-highest since 1989.
So ratings were down, but only in comparison to 2004 and 2006, when audiences were stoked by a thrilling seven-game series. In the big picture, hockey has probably never been more popular in Canada than it is today.

South of the border? As always, it's a different story, and for the NHL it seems to get worse every year.

You'll find pockets of loyal fans in towns like Minnesota, Buffalo, Philadelphia and a few other stops along the way. Those folks are as passionate and knowledgeable as any Canadian. But the television numbers don't lie, and those numbers confirm that for the vast, vast majority of American sports fans, the NHL does not exist.

The final game of the NHL Stanley Cup contest between the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators on NBC pulled in 2.88 million viewers, the lowest in 12 years.

If that wasn't enough bad news for NBC and the NHL, the third game of the Stanley Cup Finals on Saturday drew just 1.6 million total viewers, the lowest viewership for any finals game since the network began carrying hockey last year. It's not just NBC. The NHL's cable network, Versus, also witnessed a 20% drop in viewership for the first two games of the Stanley Cup versus last year.

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