By Mary Cunningham

One of the memes that get quoted every spring is:

There’s nothing like playoff hockey. It’s the best game to watch!

This is generally argued by puck-heads, who have no interest in pro basketball.

But it has rung true this year as the Stanley Cup Finals of the NHL, which is essentially a regional, niche sport, have set records for TV viewing.

And the NBA finals have also — about three times as many sets of eyeballs as the NHL!

One benefit ESPN gets by putting NBA finals games on ABC, it’s sister network in the Disney family, is access to a broadcast audience that is larger than cable’s.

That advantage has frequently seemed meaningless to ESPN, which has often argued about the power of its many platforms when the power of broadcast television is invoked. Yet ESPN does not mind boasting that the Cavaliers-Warriors finals is averaging 18.5 million viewers, which might not be achievable on ESPN, regardless of its stature. And that ability to snare extra viewers by using ABC seems to be at play in a few recent moves.

The first Stanley Cup game between the Lightning and Blackhawks on June 3 was the most-watched Game 1 in 18 years that did not go into overtime. It was seen by an average of 5.5 million viewers nationwide, according to Nielsen.

Game 2 did even better. It was the most watched second game of the Stanley Cup final ever, reining in an average of 6.6 million viewers.


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