Hockey is hard for OLN

NHL has ups and downs with cable ratings

NEW YORK — The National Hockey League is scoring lots of Nielsen goals with regional sports networks, but it’s skating on thin ice amid plunging national ratings on OLN.

For the first week of the season, the average rating of the 22 sports regionals carrying the games of a pro-hockey team is a 1.8 — 50% higher than the same period in the 2003-04 season. (A lockout/strike obliterated the entire 2004-05 season.)

Twelve of the 22 teams were racking up higher ratings than two years ago, five by humongous percentages: the Wild (up 286% after two games), the Lightning (up 171% after four games), the Kings (up 150% after three games), the Penguins (up 122% after three games) and the Bruins (up 101% after four games).

By contrast, OLN, which has exclusive national cable rights to the NHL, suffered a 57% falloff in household ratings in its third game on Tuesday compared with the Oct. 5 season opener.

But an OLN spokeswoman said that there was tough competition on Tuesday from an American League Championship Series game between the Angels and White Sox as well as from hockey games throughout the country featuring local teams whose fans could watch them on the sports regional.

OLN is also poised to bid on a package of National Football League games that would run alternately on Thursday and Saturday night post-Thanksgiving starting in 2006.

Clinching a deal like that could raise the profile of OLN and help it push its circulation well beyond the 64.7 million subscribers it now reaches. (ESPN, the last cable network to carry NHL games, is in 90.35 million homes.)

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