Western New York is considered to be a much bigger hockey market than basketball market.
But the just-concluded National Hockey League and National Basketball Association finals illustrate the love of both professional sports on local television is very close.
Golden State's 129-120 victory over Cleveland Monday night in Game 5 of their series to win the NBA title had about a series-high 9.3 rating on WKBW-TV (Channel 7), the local ABC affiliate.
The five games in the basketball series averaged an 8.6 local rating. ABC uses a 9 p.m. start time (one Sunday game was at 8 p.m.), including what can be 15 minutes of pregame chatter rather than game action. The NBA would have loved to have had a Game 6 because ratings generally become much higher as the series are extended.
The first five games on Pittsburgh's six-game series victory over Nashville averaged an 8.6 local rating, with NBC using an 8:15 p.m. start time rather than include the 15 minutes of pregame chatter that starts at 8 p.m. The 10.4 local rating for the Penguins series clincher in Game 6 moved the local series average up to 8.9.
In any case, the ratings for the championship series seem to indicate armchair fans love the sports almost equally.
However, there are some asterisks in the comparison besides the different way the networks decide when coverage starts. Two of the Stanley Cup Finals games were carried on NBC's cable sports channel, NBCSN. Normally, that would mean lower ratings than on its broadcast channel. But the two cable games – Games 2 and 3 – averaged a strong 7.8 local rating and Game 2 actually had a higher rating than Game 1 and Game 5 on NBC.
Additionally, the NBA title series was one of its best, featuring several of the league's superstars, including Golden State's Kevin Durant and Steph Curry and Cleveland's LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. And they were incredible throughout the series. Durant was named the MVP of the series, but a case could have been made to share it with James, who averaged a triple double during the series and didn't have the cast of teammates that Durant had.
While the ratings for finals in both sports were close, the key difference is Buffalo has much stronger ratings than hockey gets nationally and much lower ratings than basketball gets nationally.
According to NBC, Buffalo was the No. 3 market – behind only Pittsburgh and Nashville – for the Stanley Cup Finals and for the entire Stanley Cup playoff run. Nationally, the six-game series averaged about a 2.7 rating, about one-third of the Buffalo rating.
Nationally, the first four games of the NBA Finals – Game 5 nationally isn’t in yet – averaged a 12.8 rating in metered markets, which is about 50 percent higher than the Buffalo rating.
A few more notes: The ABC announcing trio of play-by-play man Mike Breen and analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy makes good games even better. They provide just the right mix of information, strategy and humor during the game. Doris Burke is also an excellent postgame reporter, who even asks star players some difficult questions in a nice way. As one of my Twitter followers noted, she could lighten up a little but that's just not her style.
Finally, it was noticeable that James embraced Durant after the series and not Curry. Other Cleveland players also showed Durant some love. I could be wrong, but I got the sense that Cleveland players respect and like Durant much more than they do Curry.