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NHL returns, but TV viewers may come back slower

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 15, 2013 at 4:58 pm •  Published: January 15, 2013

"We know going into this that an all-Canadian Stanley Cup final would be different than a Boston Bruins-Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup final," Flood said. "That's just the basics of market size."

The Bruins' Game 7 victory in 2011 earned the highest rating for an NHL game in 37 years — and that was, in fact, against a Canadian team in the Vancouver Canucks. That followed strong numbers for finals involving the Red Wings, Penguins, Flyers and Blackhawks.

"You're only as good as the matchups and the quality of play on the ice," Flood said.

The NBA came out of its lockout last season with high ratings for a shortened schedule, proving the value of appealing stars and story lines — strengths the NHL believes it has, too. But the timing of basketball's work stoppage may have minimized any negative impact, or even helped. The NBA opened on Christmas, with many now suggesting the league should do that every year. Hockey may find itself competing against a more cluttered landscape.

Viewership was down for last year's Stanley Cup final between the Kings and Devils, but for the first three rounds of the playoffs, the average audience was the largest since 1997 (when the population was smaller).

"It's the casual viewer that became part of something special last year and got caught up in the excitement and the drama of the playoffs — we've got to get them back," Flood said.

NBC announcer Mike "Doc" Emrick sees as a good sign the number of people who have shown up to watch teams practice.

"The energy from the fans is heartening and exciting," he said.

Those are the core fans, and Flood is confident they will return fast — partly because he knows one well. His father was a hockey coach.

"He used to get mad and say how awful that they're not playing hockey, and 'I'm not coming back,'" Flood said. "Now he understands it's business. If he wants to watch hockey, he's got to get back in front of the set, because he loves the game of hockey. I think that is a big group out there that loves hockey, frustrated that it happened, but once the puck is dropped, they want to see their teams."