Thursday, February 21, 2008


Just How Many Fans Does the NHL Have?

by Jes

Our Southern correspondent checks in with an interesting link to a Wall Street journal post. The topic? Just how many fans does the NHL actually have?

The NHL claims it has 50 million fans, and cites the results of one particular survey to help back up its claim.

The Numbers Guy delves into the pool, and claims the NHL is full of crap.

[The NHL] cited a 2006 study from Scarborough Research’s sports-marketing division that found 49.2 million Americans had some interest in the NHL. Scarborough randomly dialed American phone numbers to recruit more than 200,000 people to fill out and mail in a survey. As part of a broad survey on consumer habits, respondents were directed to “check how interested you are in these sports.” The NHL was one of them. Responses were then extrapolated to adults nationwide.

Scarborough found just 8.3 million American adults were “very” interested in the NHL. Another 13.5 million were “somewhat” interested. To approach 50 million requires counting the other 27.5 million who said they are “a little bit” interested. Apparently a little bit of interest doesn’t translate into switching on the television to watch free broadcasts of the season’s most important games. (By the NHL’s definition, Scarborough numbers show the NBA has 86 million fans, Major League Baseball has 114 million and the NFL has 135 million — including 55 million who are “very” interested in the pro-football league.)

It is obvious that The Numbers Guy isn't much of an NHL fan, and doesn't really understand the nature of the sport or its fans. I know the NHL is exaggerating the numbers, as they tend to do. Still, let me defend the NHL a little bit.

1. Unlike the Super Bowl, the NHL Stanley Cup Finals aren't always a 'must-watch' one-time event. By the time the finals roll around, most of us have experienced at least a tinge of hockey burnout. It's spring, it's sunny, and most people aren't in a hockey mood. Unless your team is involved, it is quite hard to really get into the Stanley Cup Finals at times.

2. There are plenty of non-American hockey fans, especially in Canada and in Europe. The 50 million figure is, more realistically, a worldwide figure, and could also be derived from many other things (hits on, for example). Why do you think the NHL bothers to do exhibition games in Europe?

3. It's kind of hard to watch the NHL when it's on a network that many people can't access (Versus).

4. Having a 'little bit' of interest certainly doesn't mean that the particular fan is going to tune into the Stanley Cup Finals. Likely, any fan that says a 'little bit' of interest is more into their local team once in awhile, or they enjoy watching hockey highlights, fights, and the like. I have very little interest in the CFL, but I do watch the occasional BC Lions game from time to time.

In the end, the NHL is pretty much full of it when it claims it has 50 million American fans. I'm sorry, but TV ratings would be a lot better if that was the case. The proof is in that pudding, I would say.

What can't be discounted is how many fans the NHL has outside of the USA. The NBA is not doing too well in the USA, but they have awesome numbers from around the world, and their viewership from other places is growing rapidly.

Perhaps the NHL will take lessons, and realize that there is a friendlier market outside of the disinterested American audience that would prefer slow sports like baseball and football.

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Europe is waiting for more exposure to NHL hockey. Bring it to us. Many people here in Portugal are NBA fans because they can watch it on our sports channels...
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