The talking box tells me so

trophiesWednesday morning the mighty mjd asked a question – is the NHL getting a little bit too much attention. His query inspired another – What dictates the importance of one sports title over another? (I actually had a second question arise as well, but more on that later).

In his post mjd pointed primarily to the sudden Stanley-apalooza party over at ESPN after the Hurricanes claimed the Cup.

Everyone knows how bad hockey’s TV ratings have been. I’m not trying to twist that knife, but… given the general disinterest of the general populace towards hockey, perhaps ESPN and other sports media outlets are giving it a little bit too much attention.

I responded that the media problem I see is that any ink donated to the ice tends to treat the TV ratings like an ex-girlfriend. They insist on irritating you by consistently bringing them up. That’s pretty crappy, but it’s also the price the NHL must pay for screwing its fans out of a season. It was dumb and the smacks well deserved.

Yet mjd’s question continued to pluck at me. What exactly defines the importance of one championship against another? Is it fair to weigh the question on the scales of Neilson? What if we did?

For your enjoyment, I’ve compiled a list of ratings for the most recent championships in various sports. I spent way too much time with google to find the ratings. I added a couple of random marks as well, for the sake of comparison.

Recent championship TV rating Est. Viewers*
Super Bowl, ABC 41.6 45.8M
Rose Bowl, ABC 21.7 23.9M
World Series Game 4, FOX 13.0 14.3M
Daytona 500, NBC 11.3 12.4M
NCAA Basketball Final, CBS 11.2 12.3M
NBA Finals Game 6, ABC 10.1 11.1M
The Masters, CBS 9.0 9.9M
World Cup USA-Italy, ABC 5.2 5.7M
Coca Cola 500, FOX 5.1 5.6M
Indy 500, ABC 5.0 5.5M
Kentucky Derby, ABC 3.8 4.1M
WWE Raw 6/5, USA 3.6 3.9M
Stanley Cup, Game 7, NBC 3.3 3.6M
US Open, Tennis, CBS 2.9 3.2M
NCAA Women Final, ESPN 2.5 2.7M
World Series of Poker, ESPN 1.3 1.4M
Poinsettia Bowl, ESPN2 0.89 980,780
* rating point equals 1,102,000 households

(please feel free to send me any corrections which need to be made)

Glancing over the list, I think it’s fair to divide championships into one of four groups:

I worship you!!! (double-digits): THE champs whose exploits the nation CAN NOT miss. Everyone watches, everyone celebrates and SI slings out a commemorative issue. (Unless it’s NASCAR, which ESPN ignores. That rating must be a typo).

Cool! (5 to 9.9): Reliably warm in the ratings, these championship events cater to the casual sports fan. It’s not on our calendar, but if nothing else is on we’re tuning in, especially if we have money riding on it.

Really. (2-4.9): We didn’t watch, but we heard the next day you won. We might try to see highlights, but only if it’s before the Top Ten.

Huh? (less than 2): Fans of these champs have immense pride in the accomplishment, but no one outside the cult has any clue who you are, what you won, or how you won it. We think it’s cute when you talk smack. Now run along.

A couple of other points to make:

1. Consider which events are on which network. As you should know, ABC and ESPN are joined at the mouse ear. Any event scheduled for ABC cameras is SHOVED DOWN THE THROAT of SportsCenter fans. Horse racing for instance. Three times a year ESPN goes into heat for the hooves. Yet the Derby barely outpaces a regular episode of muscle men in tights. So is Cena’s belt more prestigious than Barbaro? When Sabu cut him open last Monday, did he get many get well cards?

2. As I mentioned earlier, the NHL ratings used to be a bit better – not much, but some. We are constantly reminded of that fact. Meanwhile, everyone insists the NBA has regained its Magic. Fans love it again. Just look at the ratings. A 10.1 for Game 5 in Dallas. The six-game series on ABC averaged an 8.5. Sounds good, until you realize that just eight years ago the same event hit a 18.7. (NHL hit 3.3) So a slight drop in one sport is proof it’s weaker than Skreech, but a huge drop in another inspires celebratory hi-fives.

3. Does any of this really matter? If no one sees you win a title, does that diminish the feat in any way? That’s the subject of another post I hope to explore tomorrow.

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