New York Rangers fans, starving for a Stanley Cup title since Mark Messier and Mike Richter led the team to victory 20 years ago, will drive Stanley Cup television ratings and ticket prices to record levels, industry executives said.
The Rangers defeated the Montreal Canadiens two days ago to advance to their first final since 1994. They will face the winner of the Western Conference series between the Los Angeles Kings, the 2012 Stanley Cup winners, and the Chicago Blackhawks, who defeated Boston in last year’s final to capture their fifth league title. The best-of-seven series is tied 3-3 with a decisive Game 7 set for tomorrow night in Chicago.
The big-market finals matchup will be a boon for Comcast Corp. (CMCSA)’s NBC, which in 2011 paid about $2 billion for the rights to broadcast NHL games through 2020-21, according to Brad Adgate, director of research at New York-based Horizon Media Inc.
“The fact that the Rangers are in the largest market, there’s going to be a lot stronger appeal than other Eastern Conference teams,” Adgate said in a telephone interview. “Tampa Bay? Washington? I mean, Columbus? There’s a really strong fan base in New York that has really come alive.”
Through the first 83 playoff games, the NHL has drawn an average of 1.12 million viewers, up 4.6 percent from last year, according to Horizon Media data. The numbers still trail the National Basketball Association’s playoff ratings, which are up 7 percent this year to an average of 4.5 million viewers per game from 4.2 million in 2013. NBC Sports Network said it drew more than 1.75 million viewers in six NHL playoff games in May, a record for the Comcast Corp.-owned network.
Los Angeles is the U.S.’s second-largest media market, while Chicago is third.
“You’re guaranteeing large, committed audiences interested in these games,” said Lee Berke, president of Scarsdale, New York-based LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media Inc. “From a TV standpoint, a business standpoint, in terms of the United States marketplace, it couldn’t be better and will only help the league going forward.”
Beyond their geographic location, the Rangers have several storylines that have drawn interest throughout their playoff run, Adgate said.
Martin St. Louis, who was acquired in a March trade with Tampa Bay, has emerged as a leader of the team, a role Messier played while helping end New York’s 54-year title drought in 1994.
Soon after joining New York, St. Louis’s mother died unexpectedly at 63. Three days later, on Mother’s Day, the 38-year-old Quebec native scored the first goal in a second-round win over the Pittsburgh Penguins as his father and sister watched from their seats in Madison Square Garden.
After that victory, the Rangers went on to win their next three games and have won five of the past seven to reach the finals, which will begin June 4.
St. Louis leads all New York players with six goals, including a game-winning goal in overtime of Game 4 of the Montreal series, and is tied with teammate Derek Stepan with 13 points in 20 playoff games.
“If they win, St. Louis is the new Messier and Henrik Lundqvist is the new Richter,” Adgate said.
Lundqvist, New York’s starting goalie since 2005, surpassed Richter with the most wins in team history in March and set a new postseason franchise mark with his 42nd playoff victory two nights ago, passing Richter on the list.
Along with a probable ratings boost, the Rangers’ presence in the finals has led the average price of the three possible home playoff games to rise to $2,439, according to New York-based TiqIq, a secondary-market ticket aggregator. Tickets for Game 6 of the series, the last possible home game for New York, are listed at $2,737 on TiqIq’s website, surpassing the game-day price of this year’s National Football League Super Bowl.
With the current prices, tickets to Rangers’ home games would be the highest in Stanley Cup history, eclipsing the $2,055 average paid for Vancouver Canucks’ games in 2011, Chris Matcovich, vice president of data for TiqIq said in an e-mail.
Rangers fans are “arguably the most loyal of any New York fan base and have been starving for a Cup berth for 20 years,” Matcovich said. ‘There is also an abundance of fans who have large amounts of disposable income and when it comes to successful teams in this town, people have always been willing to pay top dollar.’’
For the NHL, the prospect of having a team from either Los Angeles or Chicago is a “win-win” situation, Adgate said.
“It would be a feather in their cap,” he said. “They both have great storylines.”
(An earlier version of this story corrected the timeframe of Martin St. Louis’s goal.)
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