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Canadian NHL ratings shockingly low for 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs

For the first time since 1970, no Canadian teams qualified for the NHL postseason. Commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged that there was “uncertainty” about what the ratings would look like for the Stanley Cup Playoffs north of the border, and (infamously) noted that the playoffs were still Canada-friendly because of all the Canadians on playoff teams. 

Perhaps that appeal was overstated. According to Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, the ratings for Stanley Cup Playoff games have plummeted 61 percent from last season.

From Campbell:

Through the first five nights of hockey in the playoffs – from last Wednesday (April 13) through Sunday (April 17) – an average of just 513,000 viewers tuned into the 20 NHL playoff games. Compare that to last spring when there were five Canadian teams playing in the first round and an average of 1.306 million viewers tuned into the first 21 first-round games. That’s a drop of 61 percent from last season.

“Even with no Canadian teams, those are shockingly low numbers,” said one industry expert. “There were regular season games on TSN two years ago that did better than that.”

Ouch. The TSN thing, we mean.

So what happened here? One theory Campbell notes is that since no Canadian teams were even in the playoff hunt at the end, interest diminished rather early. “Fans of those teams have tuned out and, apparently, remained tuned out,” he writes.

But the primary reason remains that if your team, or a team you hate, fails to make the postseason, you’re just not going to be that engaged. That holds true in both of our great nations.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins all being on the outside of the playoff hurts. Ditto the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames, who made the cut last season. Canadian fans simply don’t have the same level of engagement with the Eastern Conference teams playing in the first round; and in the west, the most intriguing series is happening after 10:30 p.m. almost every night.

All of this is devastating for Rogers – who, in full disclosure, produces our podcast Marek Vs. Wyshynski. As David Shoalts notes, they were already in cost-cutting mode before the postseason:

But what those changes will be, aside from cost-cutting, has the staff guessing. The cost-cutting measures are obvious – only three Rogers play-by-play crews are covering an entire series in the first playoff round, which saves money on production costs. The fourth crew, play-by-play broadcaster Dave Randorf and analyst Greg Millen, will see spot duty on select games in the first round along with a small technical crew. A year ago, Rogers had crews at most first-round series which, of course, included five Canadian teams.

With production costs running around $100,000 a game, Rogers could save about $500,000 over a seven-game series by cutting back to three full-time play-by-play crews, according to a broadcast industry source. This could add up to $2-million by the end of the playoffs, which run four series.

There’s still hope that the playoff ratings could spike. As Bettman optimistically put it: "As long as the hockey is entertaining and exciting and competitive we're hoping and expecting that fans will tune in and watch great hockey.”

There are plenty of twists, turns and Game 7s left in these playoffs. There are plenty of compelling matchups that could make the casual fans take notice, especially with a few teams that have never won the Stanley Cup looking viable. And, of course, there’s the one thing for which Rogers is praying to whatever deity that will listen: Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby in the Metro Division final.

One in every 69 Canadians may not care about Round 1 of the postseason, but give’em Canada’s golden boy against the Russian machine and those numbers will get sunnier for Rogers.

If you're a Canadian not watching the playoffs (but, for some reason, reading a hockey blog), why aren't you watching? Please leave feedback in the comments.

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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