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Is Lord Stanley the Goliath to David (Stern)?

By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

June 14, 2013

It’s mid-June. School’s out. Father’s Day and the U.S. Open are here. But if you’re a fan of a major team sport save baseball, this is your last gasp of having anything compelling to watch until the NFL season starts (and we’re talking regular season, not that watered down preseason scrimmage the NFL passes off as full-price football).

That must mean we’re wedged firmly in that double-wide cocoon of sporting excellence known as the NBA Finals-Stanley Cup Finals duopoly.

But, which sports’ championship round truly equates to “Must See TV?”

The NHL’s Boston Bruins-Chicago Blackhawks matchup is the first Stanley Cup Final between “Original Six” NHL franchises since 1979. “We’re probably a sport more focused on its histories and traditions than any other, and many hockey fans focus on that history as it relates to the original six teams,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman shared with Rick Horrow on Bloomberg TV “Sportfolio.”

“This is exciting,” Bettman continued, “but more important…is how good the hockey is—and the hockey has been spectacular.” (Witness the triple overtime thriller that was the Stanley Cup Finals Game One.)

On the NBA’s court, we’ve got league MVP LeBron James and his Miami Heat against perpetual playoff contenders the San Antonio Spurs, with Father Time’s shot clock running down on their own Big Three. The Spurs’ dogged pursuit of the Tim Duncan-Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili core’s likely final NBA title, and the Heat’s determination to repeat as champions, has that series tied at 2-2.

Accordingly, we’re providing some decidedly unofficial metrics to help you make those plasma HDTV viewing choices. May the best Championship win.

Market Size

The Bruins-Blackhawks Stanley Cup Final has "two large-market teams with passionate followings," as Chicago is No. 3 with nearly 3.5 million TV homes, while Boston is No. 7 with 2.366 million homes, according to the Sherman Report.

In contrast, the NBA Finals pit Miami (16th biggest media market) against San Antonio (No. 37).

Advantage: NHL

In-Venue Ad Space Utilization

Next season, according to SportsBusiness Journal, NBA officials will allow teams to sell advertising space on the court in front of benches and on top of the backboards. Until now, those spaces had been limited to team branding only. The multiyear sponsorship deals are expected to generate from the mid-six figures to $2 million annually, depending on the team’s home market.

In the NHL, teams—especially big market franchises such as the Blackhawks and Bruins—have stuck food, beer, credit cards, cell phones, and even airplanes under the ice for years.

Advantage: NHL


Yeah, we know the NHL has Sean Avery, who guest-judged on “Project Runway” and interned at Vogue. And there’s Ranger’s goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who earned the title of Most Stylish Athlete at the New York Style Awards this year, beating out the NBA’s Amar’e Stoudemire.

But thanks to Stoudemire, his teammate Carmelo Anthony, James, Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, and other stylish NBAers who now command front row seats during Fashion Week, the NBA wins the sartorial showdown hands down. As NBA Commissioner David Stern just told Jim Rome on Showtime, "It’s actually pretty cool to be able to open up a GQ or Vanity Fair or Esquire and see articles about our players as fashion leaders.”

Advantage: NBA
Merchandise Sales

You’d think with all those fashion-forwards, the NBA would lay out some killer team merch. But it’s largely just the same ho-hum hats, T-shirts, and replica jerseys the rest of pro sports produce.

They do know how to sell the stuff—at least the big market players. League MVP James was consistently No. 1 on the NBA’s top-selling jersey list until Anthony overtook him in April. Overall, the Heat are No. 2 in jersey sales behind the Knicks…while ESPN reports that the Spurs represent only 1% of all NBA team merchandise sold this season.

Meanwhile, the Bruins, Blackhawks, and their retail partners are ratcheting up creative Stanley Cup merchandise promotions. The NHL reports that not only have both teams been the top sellers during the Playoffs, but sales for each team’s licensed goods are out performing their last victorious Stanley Cup runs. Sales of Blackhawks licensed goods have increased more than 200% compared to 2010; while sales of Bruins licensed gear have increased over 300% from two years ago.

Dick’s Sporting Goods will host a Blackhawks fan event in Chicago on Saturday that will include “street teams and an organist,” according to the Chicago Tribune, while the team itself will utilize a mobile pop-up store (think food truck) throughout the duration of the Cup.

Advantage: NHL
Global Appeal

The Miami Herald reports that the Heat-Spurs NBA Finals is being broadcast in a record 215 countries. The Finals’ 10 international players have helped to boost the global audience and give the 2013 series bragging rights as “the most global ever.” Moreover, the Heat’s Facebook followers, according to the Palm Beach Post, confirm their global reach, as “more than half of the team’s 8.1 million Facebook friends -- "nearly 4.5 million -- come from outside the U.S." Further backing this up: ESPN is televising the NBA Finals in Spanish for the first time, on its Deportes network.

As for the Blackhawks-Bruins series, the two teams are fronting nine international players, the majority of whom are from Canada. And while NHL players rightfully deserve to represent their respective countries in the upcoming Sochi Olympic Games, fewer than 100 countries hold the rights to broadcast the Stanley Cup Finals.

Advantage: NBA

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Beyond the Scoreboard
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
Beyond the Scoreboard eBook
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
Beyond the Scoreboard: Chapter 1. The Mega-Master Super Series XLXL eBook chapter

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