Rich Cities Meet in a Rich Man's Sport

The Stanley Cup Finals kick off tonight, and the NHL has to be happy with the big-market matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers -- at least on paper.
Does this look like ratings gold? 

The Stanley Cup Final kicks off tonight, and these two teams seem like they'd make a dream final for the NHL: The New York Rangers, an Original Six team, have history and a fan base hungry for a cup after a two-decade drought, while the Los Angeles Kings won it all just two years ago and have one of the greatest American goaltenders ever in Jonathan Quick. What must really excite the league, though, is that these teams come from the two largest television markets in the country, which will definitely translate to historic viewership. Right?

Not necessarily. As the New York Times's Richard Sandomir notes, the league might have to temper expectations of sky-high ratings for this year's final. There's isn't a ton of recent history of championship meetings between New York and L.A. in any of the major sports from which we could draw definitive conclusions. When the Lakers swept the Nets in the 2002 NBA Finals, the Nets were still based in New Jersey. The same issue arises with the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, when the Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils. This year, neither the Kings nor the Rangers cracked the top five in the league in ratings, but the Rangers did rank third in average number of households watching their local broadcasts on MSG -- a testament as much to the team's success as to its market size.

The main issue seems to be drawing in the casual fan. Original Six matchups, such as last year's between the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks, usually post high viewership numbers because they invoke a sense of history and legacy. And Sandomir notes that the lack of star power presents a problem not just for the Kings and the Rangers, but also for the NHL at large. The Kings have Quick and Marian Gaborik, while the Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash, but when it comes to name recognition, even more well-known players from other teams such as Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin don't hold a candle to Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and other stars of yore.

There is at least one area in which this final matchup will greatly benefit the bottom line: ticket sales. Ticket prices on the secondary market have been absolutely nuts, especially for games played in New York. New York Magazine's Joe DeLessio points out that Game 6, scheduled to take place in Madison Square Garden if it occurs, could end up being the most expensive sports ticket in Big Apple history, surpassing the $2,536 average price for this year's Super Bowl XLVIII. According to SeatGeek, which aggregates tickets from various re-sellers, the cheapest ticket available as of Tuesday afternoon cost $1,005, while the average price exceeded $2,000.

The demand for hockey tickets at such a steep price might surprise you given the sport's lackluster ratings and popularity when compared to professional football, baseball and basketball. But this is what you get when two of the richest cities meet in the championship round of a sport with the wealthiest fans. According to Nielsen, NHL fans boast higher incomes than fans of the other three pro leagues: 33 percent earn more than $100,000 a year. Meanwhile, New York and L.A. might not have much in common, but they do share a tendency to attract people with a ton of disposable income. New York is home to most billionaires in the country, while L.A. ranks third.

For us regular New Yorkers, it would actually be cheaper to fly across the country to see the Rangers take on the Kings at the Staples Center than shell out a month's rent to watch the teams play on Broadway. I guess I'll see you Hollywood.

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