The National Hockey League was probably hoping for a Stanley Cup final between the Chicago Blackhawks and the New York Rangers. The Blackhawks' dedicated fans likely would have driven the finals to an all-time ratings high.
That doesn't mean that actual Western Conference champion the Los Angeles Kings are a bad second option. They're are a strong team that took home the Stanley Cup in 2012, and it gives the NHL a battle between the top two U.S. television markets. This matchup should be great for the NHL ... just not as good as it might have been had Chicago pulled out game seven over L.A.
Why would Chicago have been a better choice?
Chicago is the third-largest U.S. television market, the Blackhawks are an Original Six team, and they boast a large, enthusiastic fan base that gladly spends on tickets, merchandise, and chances to spend time with their favorite team. If they can't make it to the games, they're watching on TV.
The highest-rated NHL game ever broadcast on Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) NBC Sports Network was game seven of the Chicago-L.A. series, with a 3.17 national rating and an astounding 22.7 Chicago rating. This game broke the previous ratings record of 3.10, also set by the Chicago Blackhawks when they faced the Boston Bruins in game three of the 2013 Stanley Cup final.
Although the Chicago Blackhawks didn't even come close to the highest-ranked Fiscal Cup champions, their popularity likely would have driven higher ratings than Kings vs. Rangers.
How does this hurt?
Ad sales for this year's Stanley Cup finals have already been made, so the revenue stream is set for this year. It's down the road that took a hit.
"Because of lower likely ratings than if Chicago had made it [to the finals], [NBC] will not be able to charge as much for 30-[second] commercials to advertisers," Dr. Patrick Rishe told the Fool in an email.
Rishe, a sports business professor with a Ph.D. in economics, said that ad rates for the 2015 Finals would most likely be lower by "10%-15% of what they could get next year had Chicago make it."
The Kings are growing
In contrast to the 22.7 television rating the Chicago-L.A. game seven pulled in the Windy City, the L.A. market measured only a 4.8 rating. This is considerably higher than the 2.9 game five, the deciding game of the 2013 Kings-Blackhawks Western Conference finals, earned last year. These numbers are promising with regards to future increases in ratings and ticket sales.
In the first full season since the team won the Cup, L.A. had the second-largest increase on the fan-cost index as well as in ticket prices, according to FanCostExperience.com. Despite the increase in ticket prices, the Kings had only the 13th-highest prices in the league with an average ticket cost of only $0.35 more than the league average.
In a call to the Kings ticket sales office, the Fool was told that the Kings were expanding the number of season tickets available for the upcoming season. The team's website includes a list of prices for season tickets, with 100-level seats at center ice coming in at $5,396.50 per ticket. By contrast, the Blackhawks' platinum-level season tickets (their highest level, concurrent with the Kings' tickets quoted) come in at just over $18,000.
It could have been worse
Despite the hit to the NBC bottom line with the drop in ad rates, it's not all bad news. L.A. fans might be fewer in number than Chicago fans, but their numbers are growing. An exciting Stanley Cup finals could help hockey grow in L.A. giving the NHL more fans in the number two TV market.
Chicago versus New York may have been a dream matchup that would have produced a one-year ratings boon. Los Angeles versus New York may actually be better in the long run for the league since it has the potential to put the Kings on the path to be as strong a franchise as their Windy City rivals.