Knicks TV-Watching Fans Flee to Rangers With Heat Blowout

Jeff Gliner wields what might be the most powerful TV remote control in New York.

With the National Basketball Association’s New York Knicks and National Hockey League’s Rangers each playing the second games of their playoff series tonight -- after they both had their Game 1s at the same time two days ago -- the assistant general manager of Bowlmor Lanes near Times Square decides which of the 50 televisions are tuned to what game.

“It’s rare to have the biggest Knicks game of the last couple of years alongside a monster Rangers game,” Gliner, 27, said in a telephone interview.

Two days ago, he was besieged by fans to switch sets to hockey from basketball when the Knicks were getting clobbered by the Miami Heat, while the Rangers were defeating the Washington Capitals. The last time both teams had a playoff game in the same time slot was Sunday, May 18, 1997, when the Rangers beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the second game of the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals, and the Knicks lost to the Heat in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“The Knicks were definitely a priority coming in, but it changed over real quick in the third period,” Gliner said. “The momentum of people moving along the bar went to the Rangers screens. There were requests for the Knicks game to be turned off.”

Miami’s LeBron James scored the final nine points of the second quarter to give the Heat a 23-point halftime lead, and the Knicks never got much closer in a 100-67 loss, tying a franchise playoff record for fewest points.

At almost exactly the same time as James’s 9-0 streak, the Rangers were ending the second period tied 1-1 in a game they won 3-1 against the Capitals.

While Gliner kept the Knicks on two of the Stadium Grill’s three jumbo screens, he switched some of the smaller TVs in the bowling area to the Rangers and changed the main sound feed over to hockey from basketball.

Television Ratings

The Rangers-Capitals game, which was the opening contest of their second-round NHL series, got a 3.5 household rating in New York City on Comcast Corp.’s NBC, said Adam Freifeld, vice president for communications at NBC Sports Group. That means 3.5 percent of all TVs in the city were tuned to that game.

That was 17 percent higher in the New York market than the second game of the Rangers most recent second-round playoff series, also shown on NBC. New York and the Pittsburgh Penguins drew a 3.0 household rating on April 27, 2008, Freifeld said in an e-mail.

The Knicks-Heat game on Walt Disney Co.’s ABC network drew a 7.2 rating in New York, according to ESPN spokesman Ben Cafardo.

Rangers Benefit

Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports, said while the simultaneous games may present an inconvenience for New York fans, the head-to-head contests and the Knicks’ blowout loss might have helped build ratings for the Rangers.

“The Rangers game got the Rangers fans, and I don’t think the Knicks broadcast diluted the Rangers’ audience,” he said in a telephone interview. “I could actually make the argument that the Rangers’ rating benefited from the conflict because so many people were watching TV, and some Knicks fans switched over.”

Though the Rangers are the top seed in the NHL’s Eastern Conference and the Knicks are seventh in the NBA’s East, Knicks fans far outnumbered Rangers supporters at Bowlmor during the dueling Game 1s. Gliner said the ratio was about 70-30 in favor of Knicks fans, based on what jerseys they wore and which TVs they congregated around when the games started.

‘Knicks Town’

Wayne McDonnell, an associate professor of sports management at New York University, said in a telephone interview that New York “is really a Knicks town.” He added, however, that the Rangers’ win and the Knicks’ 33-point loss could help change that, at least this postseason.

“What happened yesterday is exactly what the Rangers needed,” McDonnell said a day ago. “In this market, if the Rangers can make a significant postseason run, those devout Knicks fans are going to turn into Rangers fans.”

Pilson said the networks focus on the best NBA and NHL games when they put together their schedules, and in this case the Knicks’ and Rangers’ contests happened to be the most appealing matchups. In the Knicks’ case, that was driven more by the opponent -- James and the Heat.

“They don’t start out to inconvenience New York fans,” he said of the networks and the leagues. “These scheduling issues really have to do with the national audiences.”

It’s surprising such Knicks-Rangers conflicts don’t happen more often, said Rick Burton, a professor of sports management at Syracuse University’s Falk College of Sport.

Knicks Playoffs

The reason they haven’t is because the Knicks have only reached the postseason three times in the past 11 years. The Game 1 loss at Miami was the Knicks’ 11th straight playoff defeat, one short of the NBA record.

“It’s the largest media market in the United States,” Burton said in a telephone interview. “If you believe economies of scale will generally lead New York teams to be better, you would expect this conflict to happen on an annual basis.”

Back at Bowlmor, the man with the remote says he just tries to read the crowd before pressing any buttons.

“We base it on what people want,” Gliner said.

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