Basketball Is Officially Overtaking Hockey As Canada's Favourite Sport
The NHL is worried about recent NBA successes.
I remember when my uncle Peter and I would settle into a comfy couch and watch the Stanley Cup playoffs. It was my favourite spring-time activity, even though the Habs probably weren't playing. No matter what, we were Canadians and hockey was our sport.
Though a Canadian team hasn't made the Stanley Cup Finals since the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in 2011, Canadians still watched the Cup Final in droves. There's no way that the country would tune in en masse to basketball or, heaven forbid, baseball.
Now that the Toronto Raptors have reached the NBA Finals for the first time in their 24 year history, the paradigm has shifted. In fact, Game 6 of the Raptors vs. Bucks Eastern Conference final reached over 3 million viewers on Sportsnet - the largest T.V. audience to ever watch a basketball game in Canada.
Though the NHL is indeed the strongest they've ever been, the NBA is slowly encroaching into the Canadian public consciousness and is taking over as Canada's favourite sport.
Now, let's keep in mind that hockey still is and will probably always be Canada's most popular sport. However, the Raptors recent successes and the fact that Canada hasn't seen a Stanley Cup parade in over 25 years is making hockey fans tune out and turn their dials to basketball.
Things get murky when you try to compare T.V. viewership numbers but the fact is that more people tuned into the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, Masterchef Canada, and CTV National News than they did the NHL Playoffs between May 13th and May 19th, according to the most recent Numeris numbers.
The NHL didn't even rank into the top 30.
From a viewership standpoint, the NHL should be worried about this new development as the Stanley Cup Finals are going to be hugely overshadowed by the NBA Finals in both Canada and the U.S.
According to the data from Numeris, the last time hockey even ranked in the top 30 T.V. ratings was the week of April 15th - April 21st - coincidentally a few games before the Maple Leafs were eliminated from the playoffs.
This isn't the first time the NHL has had to deal with low ratings during the Stanley Cup Finals. In 2016, viewership in Canada dropped by over 50% but despite that, the NBA Finals never ranked in the top 30.
Though it's unclear if this Raptors surge will maintain into next year but it's obvious that the NHL has many problems it needs to solve, chiefly, their social media and fan diversity. Apparently, nearly 60% of NBA fans are under 35 and more than 45% of viewers are of ethnic heritage.
For comparison, the NHL's demographics are 92% white and 64% of their fans are over 35. These stats are not encouraging for a league that is struggling to diversify and reach viewership ratings in Canada, of all places.
What does this all mean for hockey fans?
Maybe not much. Maybe this year is just an anomaly. Maybe this year indicates a trend that will continue in the future. We just have to wait and see.
One thing is for sure, the NHL's Canadian supremacy is in doubt and league executives have to find a solution before it's too late.
For more information about the NHL vs. the NBA, please read Sean Gordon's article on The Athletic (paywall protected).