Stanley Cup Most-Watched in 36 Years

Rash Report: But NBA Finals Still Draws More Viewers

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- The finals on the finals are in. And while both the NBA and the NHL scored, it was the ratings breakaway of hockey's game seven that must have taken the league's breath away, as 8 million viewers makes it the most-watched Stanley Cup Final in 36 years.

Game seven of the Stanley Cup Final was the most-watched in 36 years.
Game seven of the Stanley Cup Final was the most-watched in 36 years. Credit: AP
Thirty-six years ago, of course, wasn't only two generations ago, according to the classical definition, but was B.C. -- before cable and before computers -- both of which have resulted in slices of the network pie being reduced to slivers (if not crumbs).

Even more remarkably, game seven was on a Friday night, which is usually about as popular with viewers as, well, hockey.

Part of the puck's success was that it was a do-or-die game seven, which is adrenaline many viewers can't resist, even if the last time they watched hockey was 1980's "Miracle on Ice" or "Miracle," the 2004 theatrical dramatization of the U.S. upset of the Soviet Union in the Lake Placid Olympics.

Some of it was that although an increasing number of players are from Eastern Europe or Western Canada, two American cities were represented. And the two -- Detroit and Pittsburgh -- also seemed to represent these tough times. But just as Pittsburgh has retooled its industrial economy to hang in there much better than Detroit during the Great Recession, its Penguins also retooled and upset the favored Red Wings, in a rematch of last year's Cup.

Conversely, the cities for the NBA Finals, Los Angeles and Orlando, are the figurative and literal locations of Disney, with Orlando's team, The Magic, named after the Magic Kingdom (although the series' MVP, Kobe Bryant, isn't exactly a warm and fuzzy character out of Disney central casting).

Rash chart June 15, 2009Click for PDF
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

And yet overall, in a reflection of basketball being far more popular than hockey, the NBA easily beat the NHL in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic, as both finals matched last year's network averages (Stanley Cup games three and four ran on cable network Versus this year, while last year games one and two ran on the cable network). For the NBA, games one through five averaged a 5.8/17, close to last year's more highly hyped reprise of the storied rivalry between Los Angeles and Boston. The NHL on NBC averaged a 2.3/ 7.

So now brings summer, with Major League Baseball the only major sport with daily action. No doubt, with just weeks to go before July 4, it's time for winter sports hockey and basketball to finally be over. But it's not just sports fans that may have withdrawal symptoms. ABC and NBC will miss the big games, as their small plans for summertime prime time will bring similar-size ratings.

Tuesday: With the market down triple digits two days in a row, it's a perfect time for PBS's "Frontline: Breaking the Bank," which examines the financial crisis.
Wednesday: OK, enough with the serious stuff: Wanna embrace the culture of summertime prime time? Watch ABC's season premiere of the absurdist "I Survived a Japanese Game Show."

With nearly all network shows in repeats, the top tune-in may be for "Hawthorne," TNT's new nurse drama starring Jada Pinkett Smith.

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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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