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Sabres TV ratings continue slide as nightmare season nears end

By Alan Pergament

How low can the Buffalo Sabres go?

We're not talking about in the National Hockey League standings. They can't get any lower than 30th  place out of 30 teams.

We're referring to the team's television ratings.

After the NHL lockout ended in January of 2013, 13 of the Sabres' first 23 TV games last season had ratings of 10 or higher. The Sabres reportedly averaged about an 8 rating in the shortened season for games carried on the Madison Square Garden Network.

Because of this season’s pitiful start under former Coach Ron Rolston, TV ratings dropped early in the season to average about a 6 rating. There was a brief surge when Ted Nolan was named interim coach. His first game against Toronto had a 10.3 rating, the second game the next night a 7.9 rating.

But as the nightmare season thankfully nears its end, the Sabres are getting ratings that would appear to be at or near the historically low end since the advent of people meters in the Buffalo market in 2000. I say "appear" because statistics from all the years are unavailable.

Things have gotten so bad that the Sabres could have used a boost from St. Louis Thursday night if the Blues had used ex Sabre Ryan Miller in goal instead of his backup. Yes, it has come to the point that former Sabres may be the one ratings draw for the team. The Blues' 2-1 win had a 5.2 rating Thursday, which is higher than the recent average.

Over the 10 games before the game in St. Louis Thursday, MSG averaged a 4.6 rating, which is about a 40 percent drop from the overall average a year ago.

There should be an asterisk in those figures. Three of the 10 games on the West Coast had late starts on MSG and averaged a lowly 3.3 rating. However, by comparison two West Coast shutout victories last season had ratings of 8.0 and 5.4 despite the late starts.

When the team returned from its West Coast trip this March, ratings still suffered. A March 25 game at Montreal had a 3.8 rating and a March 27 game at Nashville an incredibly low 2.5 rating.

The Sabres loss to Tampa Bay on the night former goaltender Dominik Hasek was honored had a 4.4 rating. The Hasek ceremonies before the game had a solid 2.5 rating and undoubtedly were watched by many more viewers on the team's website or via social networks after the game. I watched it via a post on Twitter.

The shootout victory over New Jersey Tuesday night had a 4.6 rating, with it hitting a high of 7.0 during the shootout when Ville Leino scored the game-winner. Many hockey purists hate the shootout, but it does deliver TV fans.

Fans aren't happy. Sponsors can't be happy. Indeed, the only people who seem to be happy about the Sabres' woes are the snarks on Twitter, who usually provide more entertainment than the games.

Advertisers most likely are asking for make goods – free ads -- for this year or reduced rates next season.

If the Sabres can’t find some ways to give fans and advertisers hope next season, they risk losing even more TV viewers and fannies in the seats.

apergament@buffnews.com

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Sports on TV | Television | TV news
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About Talkin' TV

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament has continued to blog about television topics since retiring in 2010 as The News' television writer after 28 years on the beat. From local on-air personalities to ratings to the latest on network and cable programming, he keeps you informed.

@StillTalkinTV | apergament@buffnews.com

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