Bulls & Bears
Tom Mayenknecht is host of The Sport Market on TSN 1040 and TSN Radio, where he regularly rates and debates the Bulls & Bears of sports business. He reviews the major winners and losers of the past week every Saturday in The Vancouver Sun:
BULLS OF THE WEEK
With honourable mentions to U.S. college football and its first playoff, the beauty shots from the NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic on a sunny Jan. 1 at Nationals Ballpark in Washington, D.C. and New Year’s Day itself as one of the year’s best days in sports television, the bull market created in Canada by the IIHF U20 World Junior Hockey Championship is undeniable. Unabashedly created, developed and promoted by TSN since it gained the rights in 1991, the World Juniors have traditionally served the national sports network and fans with a much-welcomed medley of entertaining hockey between Boxing Day and the first week of January. This is a classic case study of product development, wherein best practices in appointment television, lead-in promotion and seamless coverage have turned what was an unheralded IIHF tournament living on the fringe into one of the country’s cornerstone properties in sports television, sponsorship and merchandising. Working in collaboration with Hockey Canada and the IIHF, TSN has turned the World Juniors into a consistent ratings winner. Never has this been more important to the Bell Media family than it is this year given TSN is on the outside looking in on the new 12-year, $5.2 billion NHL national rights package won by Rogers. So far, Santa Claus has delivered big time for TSN with outstanding ratings in the round robin and the prospects for a deep run in the playoff rounds by Team Canada. You know you’re in special territory when an average Canadian audience of 1.123 million viewers tune in on Boxing Day for USA-Finland (beating out Hockey Night in Canada last Saturday by more than 200,000 and setting a new record for World Juniors games not involving Canada). When the four hottest TV shows of the week — and five of the top-10 and 10 of the top-20 — are from the World Juniors, it’s called market domination. The appointment television of Canada-USA on New Year’s Eve has become the gold standard, but watch for more audiences north of three to four million in the coming days.
BEARS OF THE WEEK
As strong as the World Juniors are in the ratings department for TSN, this year’s event has been somewhat bearish at the box office for Hockey Canada and the IIHF. The tournament — still so much more relevant in Canada than it is anywhere else on the planet — typically turns to our northern tundra for capacity crowds. This year, however, even Canada’s round robin games at the Bell Centre in Montreal did not sell out (with almost 3,000 empty seats for Canada-USA on New Year’s Eve). That shouldn’t be an issue now that Team Canada’s path to gold takes it to Toronto, but there have been plenty of empty seats along the way. That is all on Hockey Canada for pushing the envelope too far on ticket pricing (some say ticket gouging). When mainstream events are properly priced, they tend to sell out on the strength of demand from hard core fans and so-called “light users” or casual fans. Yet when they go too far down the road of premium pricing, those same events lose the casual fans typically required to drive primary market sellouts and inflate prices on the secondary market of re-sales. That’s what happened in Montreal and hence the bullish TV metrics have been almost overshadowed by the bearish (by Canadian standards) attendance numbers. It’s a valuable sport business lesson, not only for Hockey Canada but for all major pro sports leagues and organizations in North America.
Listen to The Sport Market on TSN 1040 Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Bulls & Bears airs at 9 a.m., followed by Weekend Extra with Sun Sports at 9:30 a.m. Follow Tom Mayenknecht at: Twitter.com/thesportmarket