The Blues have been rampaging toward the top of the NHL standings, and they have been almost as formidable in the television ratings as on the ice.
They have been a ratings bonanza for Fox Sports Midwest, which carries their local telecasts, and have developed into a key cog for NBC Sports Group, which shows the NHL nationally (NBC over the air, NBCSN on cable/satellite).
The Blues have been on a torrid clip, 12-0-1 in their last 13 games after beating Buffalo 3-0 on Thursday, and interest in the team is soaring — though a “let’s see what happens in the playoffs” outlook exists in some corners, as fans often have been teased before by a franchise that hasn’t been to the Stanley Cup finals since 1970.
But Sam Flood, who is executive producer for NBC and NBCSN, is involved in the here and now as NBC prepares to show the Blues-Chicago game nationally from St. Louis at 11:30 a.m. Sunday (KSDK, Channel 5 locally).
“Deep down St. Louis has always been pretty passionate,” about the Blues, Flood said, adding that it is being “reborn” as a key market.
He compares the Blues’ rise to that of Chicago a few years ago.
“It went from an afterthought to No. 1’’ for us, he said. “St. Louis is flying now.”
That sets up a key game Sunday for NBC, which sends its top broadcast team of Mike “Doc” Emrick (play-by-play), Eddie Olczyk (analysis) and Pierre McGuire (analysis, reporting) to town. It will be the Blues’ first NBC appearance this season after six of their contests have been on NBCSN.
The game Sunday is an important one for NBC.
“Chicago has a big national following, and St. Louis is strong locally,” Flood said.
In fact, he said the Blues have become a key component in the NBC/NBCSN game plan, not only because of their success but in the fact that they are in the Central time zone and that fits in perfectly with its scheduling.
He calls the Blues a “pillar” in the “right time zone” for the company. Whereas Los Angeles has been a power in recent seasons, the Kings’ night home games begin after many potential viewers in the East and Midwest either have gone to bed or are preparing to.
Not so for the Blues, who have become an NBC Sports Group darling. To wit:
• The group can’t show any team more than 23 times combined on its two outlets over a two-year period, and is in the midst of taking the Blues to the maximum level — they were on 12 times last season (10 NBCSN, two on NBC) and are set to be on 11 times this year (eight on NBCSN, three on NBC). Their next appearance after Sunday is set for March 22, at Detroit on NBC.
• Blues games this season on NBCSN have been seen in 5.1 percent of homes in the area, making St. Louis the network’s second-highest rated market for the local team’s games. Only Pittsburgh is higher. The rating in St. Louis is up 48 percent for those Blues games on NBCSN.
• In last year’s playoffs, the Blues didn’t last beyond the first round. But two of their contests, against Chicago, were shown on NBC, and Game 6 — in which the Blackhawks clinched the series — drew NBC’s highest rating for the postseason until the Stanley Cup finals. It drew a 12.7 rating in St. Louis.
The Blues have become a pillar for Fox Sports Midwest as well as NBC Sports Group.
Their FSM rating (4.6) has risen 17 percent and is on pace for the club’s best-rated season on that outlet (though far from the numbers they were generating in the mid-’90s, when they were on over-the-air television and drawing ratings in excess of 6). As with NBCSN, the Blues have the second-best local rating among U.S.-based NHL teams, also trailing only Pittsburgh.
“Success on the ice is a big factor, but it’s more than that,” Fox Sports Midwest spokesman Geoff Goldman said. “The team is great in the community, they’ve grown their digital efforts, and our TV production continues to be strong. It all contributes.”
The Blues give FSM strong ratings in the hard-to-reach young male demographic. Entering Thursday’s play, their prime-time games had been seen by 6.1 percent of men in the area ages 18-34 with a TV. The second-best figure for that group was 1.9, for shows on KTVI (Channel 2) and KSDK.
“Blues hockey is growing in popularity among young viewers while the live audience for a lot of entertainment programming shrinks,” Goldman said.