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Penguins see new reality in regional TV

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Christopher Horner
Penguins fans celebrate Evgeni Malkin's goal during the first period against Toronto Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013 at Consol Energy Center. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

The Penguins have created a new reality for regional television.

From Erie to the Ohio border, though Morgantown, W.Va., and toward Altoona, about 357,000 people on average have watched Penguins games broadcast on Root Sports Pittsburgh since the NHL returned in late January.

No United States' NHL market had done better with its local club.

The Penguins' overall regional television rating — games broadcast on NBC, NBC Sports Network and/or Root Sports Pittsburgh — generated an 11.9 average, best for any NHL or NBA team.

“It's important for us to have high TV ratings because it tells us hockey is becoming more embedded in the culture,” Penguins CEO David Morehouse said.

The Penguins' regional TV ratings also were highest for NHL and NBA teams last season, and they are doing it again after a 119-day lockout.

Regional TV ratings have risen steadily from their 2.5 average since a lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season. The Penguins' quick transformation from bottom-five (2005-06) to Stanley Cup champion (2008-09) contributed to the initial spike, but with only one playoff series win over the last three springs the recent surge is an indication of regional brand resonance, Morehouse said.

“What also stands out to me is the width and depth of the Penguin fan,” Root Sports Pittsburgh general manager Shawn McClintock said. “It's really an almost level demographic in terms of age and gender on a nightly basis.”

The Buffalo Sabres were also off to a strong regional TV ratings start this season, with an average of 10.1. Rounding out Nielsen's top five: Boston (7.0), St. Louis (5.0) and Chicago (4.9).

Total approximate viewers is measured by multiplying the rating by 12,000 and multiplying that total by 2.5 — the average number of TV viewers in a U.S. household.

The Penguins had produced a double-digit rating in 12 consecutive games broadcast on Root Sports Pittsburgh. That shattered the previous best mark, four in a row, set in December 2010 prior to the Winter Classic at Heinz Field.

Morehouse repeatedly has said his organizational objective is to grow hockey as a sport throughout the region. The Penguins have put their financial and organizational muscle behind youth hockey and also pushed the sport at the collegiate level.

McClintock, whose company is contracted to broadcast Penguins games through 2029, said his aim is to educate casual fans.

A new Root Sports Pittsburgh studio includes an 80-inch hi-def monitor that serves as a Telestrator for Jay Caulfield, a former Penguins player. Another former Penguin, color commentator Bob Errey, is directed to “explain why something just happened to the audience,” McClintock said.

Morehouse lauded Root Sports Pittsburgh's focus on other NHL teams during broadcasts.

“It's not just about the Penguins,” Morehouse said. “It's about the NHL in general and hockey more broadly.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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