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Some perspective on Buffalo's No. 1 hockey ratings

When the ratings for the Top 10 markets for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs carried by NBC and cable's NBCSN were recently released, Western New Yorkers proclaimed "We're No. 1!" on social media.

And they should have been proud of the accomplishment that illustrates that Buffalo is a very strong hockey market.

However, people on social media also shouted that NBC would be thrilled if the Sabres made the playoffs because the ratings here would be sky high. And that calls for some needed perspective. Thrilled might be too strong a word.

Buffalo is the smallest American market with a team in the National Hockey League. According to Nielsen's latest figures in 2016, the TV market here is No. 53. The second smallest market with a NHL team in the United States is Columbus, Ohio at No. 31. The new team in Las Vegas will replace Columbus next season as the team in the second smallest U.S. market at No. 40.

Ratings measure the percentage of households in markets that watch the games and bigger markets with a much lower percentage can have thousands more household viewers than Buffalo has for games.

While Buffalo was No. 1 among the Top 10 markets in rating, it was well down the list in total households because each rating point here is equal to far fewer households than most of the rest of the markets in the Top 10.

Here are the rankings of the Top 10 and the rating: 1. Buffalo (2.04) 2. Minneapolis (1.64), 3. St. Louis (1.62) 4. Nashville (1.16) 5. Providence (1.09) 6. Philadelphia (1.04) 7. Chicago (0.98) 8. Boston (0.96), 9. Pittsburgh (0.95) 10. West Palm Beach (0.92).

Notably and impressively, Buffalo rated higher than seven markets with a team in the playoffs, with Providence being Boston Bruins' territory. (This doesn't even count the additional Western New York viewers who watch CBC's coverage.)

However, even that impressive accomplishment comes with an asterisk: NBC's figures don't include the additional viewership the playoff teams had on their team's broadcast partner. The NHL allows those local broadcasts in the first round for all NBCSN games. The games on NBC have exclusivity.

But back to the math, rounding off some numbers.

A 2 rating average in Buffalo equals about 11,700 households because each rating points equals 5,853 households.

The 1.64 rating in Minneapolis represents about 28,000 households because each rating point in that city is worth about 17,000 households.

The 1.04 rating in Philadelphia, which also didn't have a team in the playoffs, represents more than 29,000 households because each ratings point in the City of Brotherly Love equals about 29,000 households.

The 0.98 rating in Chicago, the No. 3 TV market in the country, represents about 35,000 households because that's how many households each rating point in the Windy City is worth.

In other words, even an enormous rating in Buffalo -- if and when the Sabres make the playoffs -- wouldn't be much of a boost to NBC or the NHL, especially if they don't advance beyond the first round when MSG will be able to simulcast the cable games.

I think we can all agree that most Sabres fans would rather listen to Rick Jeanneret on play-by-play than anyone on first-round NBCSN games.

It is reasonable to assume a Sabres playoff game would get as high as a 30 rating in Buffalo. That would represent less than 180,000 households. If the Flyers made the playoffs, a 6 rating in Philadelphia would get about the same number of households.

This isn't to diminish how proud Western New Yorkers should be for their support of the NHL.

They also should be thankful for owners Terry and Kim Pegula, who enable them to cheer and criticize the NHL team that is in the smallest U.S. TV market in the league.


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