How NHL Fans Feel About the League’s New Broadcast Partners, On-Air Personalities
In his annual state of the league address last week, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman touted the league’s record revenue of more than $5.2 billion for the 2021-22 season, a conservative estimation to boot, according to the nearly 30-year NHL executive.
Bettman partly attributed the high-water mark to new U.S. media rights deals with Turner Sports (now part of Warner Bros. Discovery Inc.) and The Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN and ABC, both of which kicked off this season.
A new Morning Consult survey conducted June 14-15, before the start of the Stanley Cup Final, found that, despite the league’s splashy switch from NBC Sports to the hybrid of ABC, ESPN and Turner Sports (TNT and TBS), NHL fans don’t see a significant difference between the former broadcaster, which held the rights for 16 years before this season, and the league’s new partners.
In Terms of Popularity, Fans See Little Difference Between Old and New NHL Media Partners
- NBC Sports’ previous broadcasts of NHL games and programs had the highest favorability rating among both self-identified NHL fans and self-identified “avid” NHL fans, according to the survey. ABC/ESPN came in second, though the difference between the top two options’ “favorable” shares fell within the survey’s margin of error (plus or minus 3 percentage points among NHL fans and plus or minus 7 percentage points among avid fans of the league). Turner Sports finished third in the survey.
- NBC Sports had a higher net favorability rating (the share with a favorable opinion minus the share with an unfavorable view) among NHL fans (51 percentage points) compared with both ABC/ESPN and Turner Sports. The latter companies, which will reportedly pay the NHL $625 million per year through the 2027-28 campaign, scored net favorability ratings of 48 and 45 percentage points, respectively, among fans.
- Three in 10 NHL fans said there is not enough media coverage of the league, while half said there is “just the right amount” of coverage.
- Half of NHL fans said they watched the current playoffs live on traditional TV, while about 7 in 10 avid NHL fans (72%) indicated they viewed games on TV. Meanwhile, the difference between how NHL fans and avid supporters streamed games didn’t vary much: 18% of avid NHL fans said they streamed the playoffs, just 3 points higher than NHL fans.
- About 3 in 5 NHL fans (59%) said they had “about the same” amount of interest in the current Stanley Cup Final between the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning compared with previous years’ matchups. Only 19% of fans said they were “more interested” in this season’s final, while 22% said they were “less interested.”
Wayne Gretzky Is the NHL’s Most Popular Media Figure
Gretzky, the popular one
- Among the 15 reporters, play-by-play commentators and analysts included in the survey, four-time Stanley Cup winner and TNT commentator Wayne Gretzky had the highest favorability rating (72%) with NHL fans. That was almost 30 points greater than the next most popular media figure: New York Rangers legend and ESPN analyst Mark Messier, whose favorability rating was 43%. The most popular play-by-play commentator was Sean McDonough, with 3 in 10 NHL fans saying they had a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion of the ESPN media figure.
- About 1 in 4 NHL fans (24%) have a favorable opinion of Bettman, who is the longest-tenured commissioner in major U.S. professional sports. Nearly 3 in 5 NHL fans (57%) said they generally believe the league is heading in the right direction, while only 9% said it is on the wrong track.
NHL’s return to the “traditional” sports fan
In October, Bettman said that the NHL’s return to ESPN for the first time since 2004 “will bring us back to more of a traditional sports fan.” In the first year of its new TV deals, the NHL’s domestic regular season viewership saw an 18% bump year over year across ABC, ESPN and TNT. The new Morning Consult data suggests that fans largely haven’t minded the switch to new media partners — another positive sign for a league already celebrating its highest revenue numbers to date.
The survey was conducted June 14-15, 2022, among a representative sample of 865 self-identified NHL fans, including 199 self-identified “avid” NHL fans, with unweighted margins of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points and plus or minus 7 percentage points, respectively.
Mark J. Burns is a sports analyst on the Industry Intelligence team, where he conducts research, authors analyst notes and advises leaders in the sports industry on how to apply insights to make better business decisions. Before joining Morning Consult, he served as a beat reporter at Sports Business Journal, covering the business of hockey and soccer. Mark graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in history and holds a Juris Doctor from Belmont University. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].