With news last week that three of the four NFL playoff games were in supposed danger of not selling out last weekend, there was a lot of discussion about the growing popularity of the home viewing experience. One only needs to look at various half-empty -- or worse -- MLB stadiums and NBA arenas to surmise that this trend is not just a football problem.
The NHL, however, appears to be doing comparatively better in this regard. As Nina Falcone reports for CSN Chicago, they're actually significantly outpacing the NBA with regards to sellout crowds:
Throughout the 2013-14 season, 15 NHL markets have averaged at least 100 percent capacity in their home stands: The Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets. [...]
The NBA, on the other hand, has only eight markets averaging at least 100 percent capacity this season: The Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets.
There are undoubtedly a variety of factors at play for this, but I can think of a couple anecdotal explanations. First and foremost, nosebleed seats are much better in hockey than in basketball. For an NBA game, if you're sitting lower level -- and preferably in between the baskets -- that's as good of a viewing angle as you can get in live sports. However, if you're in the upper deck, you'd be much better off watching on television.
For hockey, there are benefits to sitting up high. You get an opportunity to see plays develop before the puck gets there, whereas on TV you see everything from a perspective that is much more zoned-in. NHL crowds are also a lot more lively than NBA ones. There's a bigger incentive to leave the house when it actually feels like you will be part of something collaborative and special.
There are certainly great fans at individual NBA arenas -- Memphis comes immediately to mind -- but my observation is that the average NHL venue is more collectively engaged.
The NBA still dominates the NHL in television ratings, which, by virtue of the trends we're talking about, are increasingly important. But the numbers do reinforce my belief that the NHL on average produces a profoundly superior live fan experience.