Hoops, hockey post big gains

NBA up 31% on ABC, 28% on ESPN

After years of taking a back seat to the National Football League and Major League Baseball, hockey and pro basketball are making year-to-year gains in the ratings.

That's good news for ESPN, TNT, Versus and especially NBC and ABC, which will carry some of the NHL and NBA championship games, respectively. Things have been tough for the two sports recently: Game 3 of last year's Stanley Cup Finals registered the second-lowest primetime ratings in NBC history, and the NBA Finals last year fell to record lows.

NBA playoff ratings are up 31% on ABC and 28% on ESPN, with double-digit increases in key male demos. The Boston Celtics' win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday was the fourth most-viewed NBA playoff ever on ABC (excluding the finals). The Los Angeles Lakers, a big ratings draw, have made it to the Western Conference finals, which begin tonight.

TNT saw an 17% increase in viewership for its second-round coverage and double-digit increases in the demos.

NBC, meanwhile, is looking at its best matchup in its three years broadcasting the Stanley Cup finals: a traditional hockey powerhouse in the Detroit Red Wings against the up-and-coming Pittsburgh Penguins with young star Sidney Crosby. After the first two games on Versus, NBC will have at least two games and possibly five in primetime if the finals go the distance.

The Detroit-Pittsburgh matchup is more attractive than the past two years, when small market U.S. teams faced off against Canadian opponents (2006's Carolina Hurricanes-Edmonton Oilers and 2007's Anaheim Ducks-Ottawa Senators) on NBC.

NBC's regular-season coverage was up 11% and has seen an 8% increase in the playoffs. On Versus, the national cable home of the NHL, regular-season viewership was up 28%, and the ratings for the conference finals jumped 77%, the best numbers since 2002.
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