NBA Wins in Hoops vs. Hockey Face-Off

Rash Report: Kind of Reminds Me of Obama vs. Palin

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- During Campaign 2008, political scientists devoured demographic data. Political pundits considered whether winning the "Oprah primary" was more important than winning the Oklahoma one. But maybe instead of voter intent, they should have been watching TV viewing behavior, such as the ratings for basketball and hockey, the two sports that defined the race's two dominant personalities, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.

NBA Finals and Stanley Cup
NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Credit: Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel (left), UPI/Stephen Gross
It was basketball that put some personality into Obama, whose hoops playing and watching created a context beyond his policy pronouncements. As for Palin, who often seemed as wobbly as Obama was wonky, it wasn't hitting the briefing books but hard-hitting hockey that ingrained her image with the American public, especially when she famously ad-libbed in her speech accepting the vice presidential nomination: "I love those hockey moms. You know they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick."

Last night lacked the same drama as when Obama and Palin (and, oh yeah, Joe Biden and John McCain, too) faced off at the ballot box. But the face-off between game six of the Stanley Cup Finals on NBC and game three of the NBA Finals on ABC was an interesting test of the level of support for each sport.

As expected, the NBA won by a significant margin over the NHL in all key demographic distinctions, including the ad-centric 18-to-49 target, in which ABC's game delivered a 5.9/17 rating and share, nearly one and a half times higher than the NHL's 2.4/7. That gave ABC a more comfortable margin of victory than the night's other two winners, the Orlando Magic, who edged the Los Angeles Lakers 108-104, and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who avoided elimination by winning 2-1 over the Detroit Red Wings. (Please see chart below for individual show and network ratings.)

But the ratings stats reveal some telling trends. In the finals so far, games one, two, five and six of the Stanley Cup have been on NBC (games three and four were on cable network Versus) and averaged a 2.1/7, compared with a three-game average of 5.7/17 on ABC for the NBA Finals.


See how all the shows did in the ratings.
As is often the case, there has been a generational divide. There the two sports differ, with the NBA Finals averaging a 7.7/25 with men 18 to 34 and a 6.9/17 among men 35 to 64. In hockey the trend has been the reverse, as the NBC games have averaged a 2.9/8 among men 35 to 64 vs. a 2.3/9 among men 18 to 34.

As for Palin, she's made more news lately for another sport, baseball: She took in a Yankees game with Rudy Giuliani last week and shadowboxed with David Letterman this week. But the governor may be onto something about hockey moms: The gender gulf of two-thirds-male viewership among 35- to 64-year-olds is reduced to a 60-40 male-female gap among adults 18 to 34, the age range when some moms are carting Junior (and, increasingly, Sis) to rinks. The NBA Finals, conversely, have the same consistent two-thirds-male gender gap regardless of generation.

Wednesday: Quick: Say PBS and music, and what comes to mind? The Boston Pops on July 4? Peter, Paul and Mary during pledge week? For many, that's the case. That's why it will be so refreshing to see "American Masters" profile a pop artist in "Neil Young: Don't Be Denied."
Thursday: Game four of the NBA Finals will be pivotal, as it will either tie the series or give the Lakers an all but insurmountable 3-1 series lead.

Absent the NBA and NHL, ratings reductions for ABC and NBC, as "Wipeout" and "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!" aren't quite the NBA Finals or the Stanley Cup.

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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see

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