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Buffalo's high TV ratings for hockey don't translate into big boost for NHL

It should surprise no one that the local rating for Saturday night's Stanley Cup playoff game between San Jose and Las Vegas grew as the Western Conference clash reached its second intermission, when the Buffalo Sabres won the draft lottery and the right to pick Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 overall draft pick.

The game had a 5.2 rating on WGRZ-TV (Channel 2) at 9:30 p.m., grew to a 7.1 in anticipation of the lottery at 9:45 p.m. and hit a high of 7.7 at 10 p.m. when Sabres general manager Jason Botterill suppressed euphoria as the card was turned just before 10:15 p.m. announcing the Sabres had won -- and many fans across Western New York who had vowed to dump their season tickets instantly reassessed their plans.

The game that San Jose won around 12:30 a.m., finished with a 6.2 local rating.

That is an incredible rating for a National Hockey League game on a Saturday night for a market without a team involved.

But that's par for the course in hockey in Buffalo. This is always one of the strongest TV markets for hockey.

NBC listed the Top 10 markets for the first round of the playoffs for its coverage on NBC and its cable networks this way.

Rank Metered Market Rating
1 Pittsburgh 2.54
2 Buffalo 2.11
3 Nashville 1.62
4 Boston 1.21
5 Providence 1.05
6 Tampa 1.03
t7 Columbus, OH 0.93
t7 Ft. Myers 0.93
9 Washington DC 0.92
10 Denver 0.91

The only markets that didn't have a team in the playoffs were Buffalo and Ft. Myers, the Florida city in the No. 56 TV market where many Western New Yorkers escape in the winter. Providence is Boston Bruins country.

(The ratings above are only for NBC and its cable networks. The NHL allows local broadcasts to air in the first round so viewership in the markets with playoff teams actually is higher than listed above in most of them. But local broadcasts only consist of from only four to seven games played in the eight first-round series.)

Since Buffalo has a higher rating than all but one of the eight cities with a playoff team, fans here imagine NBC and the NHL would be thrilled if the Sabres made the playoffs again and eventually advanced to the Stanley Cup finals because national ratings likely would skyrocket.

Their imagination would be wrong because they don’t fully understand ratings or how lucky they are to have a franchise in the NHL's second smallest TV market in the United States, behind only Las Vegas.

A rating point measures a percentage of available households in a particular market.

Buffalo is the No. 53 market in the country – one behind Providence. It has 592,750 households, which means each rating point is worth 5,927 households.

The nation's No. 1 TV market, New York, has 7,074,750 households, which means each rating point is worth 70,747 households.

In other words, a 30 rating in Buffalo would reach as many households as a 2.5 rating in New York City.

The 2.54 rating in Pittsburgh, the No. 24 market, is equivalent to about 29,000 households.

The 2.11 rating that gave Buffalo second place for the first round is the equivalent of about 12,000 households.

The 1.62 rating for third place Nashville, the nation's No. 27 market, is equivalent to about 16,700 households.

The 1.21 rating for fourth place Boston, the nation's No. 10 market, is equivalent to about 29,300 households.

The 1.03 rating in Tampa, No. 13 in the nation, is equivalent to about 19,360 households.

The 0.92 rating in Washington, D.C, No. 6 in the nation, is equivalent to about 22,900 households.

The 0.91 rating for the tenth place Denver, No. 17 in the nation, is equivalent to about 14,500 households.

The only TV markets in the Top 10 that averaged fewer households in round one than Buffalo are Columbus (about 8,300) Providence (about 6,300) and Ft. Myers (about 5,100).

Of course, Rochester also is considered a Sabres market but our neighbors to the east live in the No. 76 TV market and it isn't part of the overnight ratings of the top 56 markets.

The point is Buffalo should be proud it is a great hockey market percentage-wise. But if Dahlin and Jack Eichel ever lead the Sabres to success deep in the playoffs, it won't have much impact on the national ratings.

WIVB-TV researcher Bob Gallivan, a huge hockey fan, put it best.

"NBC could do a 30 rating and it would barely move the needle nationally," said Gallivan. "They could lose more viewers from a larger market (if a big market team qualified) than they would gain from Buffalo."

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Draft Numbers: While we are on ratings, Buffalo also was atop the ratings for ESPN's coverage of the first round of the NFL draft. It also was carried by The NFL Network, with Fox simulcasting the first round.

According to ESPN, its top-10 metered markets for its draft coverage included Buffalo (8.3), Columbus (8.1), Cleveland (7.5), New Orleans (6.8), Birmingham, Ala. (6.5), Norfolk (6.1), Cincinnati (6.0), Oklahoma City (5.7), and (tied) Indianapolis, Louisville and Atlanta (5.6). ESPN said Cleveland, which once again had the No. 1 pick, had been the highest-rated market for Round 1 on ESPN the past four years.

It is interesting to see how many cities in the Top 10 were in smaller markets without NFL teams, possibly because they had fans of college players who were expected to be drafted.

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