A new survey from the Angus Reid Institute finds that a majority, 54%, of Canadians say they’ll watch less hockey this playoff season, with a full 19% saying they’ll watch none at all and knock off early for the summer, owing to the fact that there are no Canadian teams to cheer for in the playoffs for the first time in 46 years.
The survey polled 1,522 Canadians from March 28 to 31.
This is bad news for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, but it’s terrible for Rogers Media, whose $5.3 billion deal for exclusive Canadian broadcast rights will be like a cannonball in the hull with any decline in viewership.
Normal viewing figures for the NHL playoffs amount to 1.5 million in Canada, and a dip in those figures will require the kind of sould searching re-build that most teams who miss the playoffs experience each year.
The Angus Reid survey asked respondents self-identify into three categories: fans (33%), those with many other interests that come before hockey (31%) and those who don’t care about the sport at all (36%).
But before you knock the survey’s premise for including the opinions of a bunch of non-fans, declining viewership figures are even worse among diehards, with 59% saying they intend to watch less, a 5% rise over the dip for more casual fans.
And in any case, even Canadians who profess to not care at all about hockey care at least a little through osmosis, as confirmed in a previous Angus Reid survey, which found that 88% of Canadians regard hockey as an “important” part of Canadian culture while 23% went so far as to say that hockey “defines” Canadian culture.
Even in the category of respondents who say they follow the playoffs “very closely”, 46% of them say they’ll be watching less hockey, while 71% of respondents who say they follow “fairly closely” will be watching less and 21% within that group saying they won’t be watching at all.
Even with no Canadian teams participating, talking heads like Don Cherry are right to point out that it’s not as if the hockey will be any less exciting or that there’ll be no Canadian storylines to follow during the playoffs.
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About half of NHL players are Canadian, whether they be Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews or any of the other Canadian players spread across the remaining playoff teams.
If you’re from Prince Edward Island, for example, the unlikely success of the Florida Panthers under coach Gerard Gallant, a Summerside native, makes for a pretty satisfying underdog story, not to mention that Habs fans will also remember Gallant fondly from his long tenure as a Montreal Canadiens assistant coach.
And if you’re looking for the team with the highest quantity of Canadians on its roster, Florida also wins with 16, tied with the St. Louis Blues, also at 16.
Montreal is the last Canadian team to have won the Stanley Cup, back in 1993, whereas “Canada’s team”, as Mike Babcock likes to call them, the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won the Cup since before hockey broadcasts switched from black-and-white to colour.
Indeed, 26% of survey respondents believe that the Canadiens are the most likely team to bring the Stanley Cup home in their lifetime.
In the meantime since the Habs won the Cup, Vancouver has come close twice, a fact that Lower Mainland window-repair shop workers and riot police can verify with a sharp spike in their overtime hours during those almost-but-not-quite moments.
Confidence is fairly high when fans of particular teams are asked to rate their own squad’s chances of being the next to win it all, with 58% of Calgary fans optimistically believing that the Flames might win the Cup, while 56% of Edmonton fans believe it’s their turn, followed by 55% of Canadiens fans who won’t stop believing.
By contrast, a mere 36% of Leafs fans think there will be a Stanley Cup parade down Queen Street in their lifetime, with Winnipeg fans being the least optimistic at a frankly sad 30% saying they think the Jets have got what it takes.
And while an exodus of viewers may spell bad business for Rogers and the NHL, there is reason to be optimistic about future seasons, as only 3% of respondents believe that the sun will die before a Canadian team brings the Stanley Cup north of the border.