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Usual Suspects

Playoff season jumps the shark Add to ...

Skirting the issue? The NHL 2010 playoff season has officially jumped the shark with the Chicago Tribune's publication of Philadelphia's "Chrissy" Pronger resplendent in a Battle of the Blades sequined number. Grown men were actually discussing the motivational angles of said pin-up on Tuesday. If hoarding souvenir pucks and Ron MacLean rescuing a drowning men did not sufficiently announce the onset of summer, then the Trib's jest - and the attention it received in the media - has confirmed that it's time for everyone to get home to their families. Soon.

Usually these lame parochial efforts are restricted to over-eager mayors wagering a pound of fatback against a handful of sap from the local trees on the outcome of the series. But the appearance of Pronger in toe picks is the Wiarton Willie moment of the postseason, indicative of six more weeks of bad journalism if this thing doesn't cease immediately, hopefully tonight at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.

The Tribune can at least explain that a century of following the Cubs has rendered them unstable. What excuse the rest of the overtaxed media caravan following the final can offer for taking the juvenile poster remotely seriously is beyond us

Ratings Showdown: It was as close to a straw poll as you'll ever have on the relative popularity of the NBA and NHL in America. Two Sunday night playoff games, head to head on major U.S. networks with the same starting time (8 P.M. ET). All cities are top-five media markets by rank in the U.S. market. So how'd they do? Game 5 of the NHL's final series between Chicago and Philadelphia produced a very strong 4.0 rating for NBC (up 54 per cent from the same game last year). But Game 2 of the NBA's final from Los Angeles between the Lakers and the Boston Celtics scored an impressive 10.9 for ABC.

A slam dunk for the NBA? Well, L.A. is the second largest U.S. media market and Boston is fifth. But Chicago ranks third and Philadephia fourth in rankings of the major American TV markets. Still, the NHL's premier attraction drew just over a third of the NBA's viewership. Not surprising perhaps, but a measure of the popularity of the sports.

Perhaps the more accurate demonstration of the two sports' popularity might be found if the two finals featured medium and small markets. Say, Utah Jazz versus Charlotte Bobcats in the NBA up against Columbus Blue Jackets versus Buffalo Sabres. (BTW: Buffalo had the highest NBC TV audience Sunday for a non-participating American city) Those matchups might cause the commissioners to pull their hair out but they'd also be a fair test of the drawing power when large markets have no direct stake.

But it's not all gloom and doom for the NHL. The demographic of hockey in the United States is a valuable one for advertisers. While hockey's popularity cuts across income levels in Canada, the sport trends to more middle and upper middle class in the U.S. Depending on which research you read, the average NHL fan in America is reportedly the spending equivalent of anywhere from three to five NBA fans. If you accept those criteria, the rough three-to-one difference in viewership for Sunday night is a wash, maybe even a win for the NHL with its demo.

Another encouraging sign for the NHL's demographic: according to Forbes, Google searches involving the NHL have spiked dramatically this spring, doubling the number from last year. Meaning hockey fans are web savvy, a key marker for advertisers.

Unfortunate Toronto Newspaper Headlines: "NBA Star To Help Murder Victim's Son". Hasn't the son suffered enough? And what did he ever do to the NBA?

Our Next Guest: Interesting dynamic on the FAN 590 Tuesday. First, J.P. Ricciardi, the man who feuded with Toronto media when he was general manager of the Blue Jays for allegedly not feeding the locals the good stuff, was a fount of information on Prime Time Sports with host Jeff Blair (who covered Ricciardi for this paper) and Dave Perkins (who did the same for the Toronto Star). Not surprisingly, Ricciardi was bullish on the players he drafted for Toronto who are (last night excepted) starting to blossom.

Ricciardi was followed on Prime Time by FAN 590 announcer Mike Wilner, restored to the good graces of the radio station after his weekend sabbatical following a tiff with Toronto manager Cito Gaston. The phone-in host for Blue Jays broadcasts usually has more opinions than Tiger Woods has private numbers. But while Ricciardi was loquacious, Wilner limited himself to matters of a global, not personal, matter in his appearance. Adding to the tension, Wilner had been criticized publicly by Blair who felt the announcer should have saved his hard questions for a one-on-one setting with Gaston. But on-air, at least, peace prevailed. Can you say uncomfortable?

Shop Now Avoid Rush: Would that the NHL keep its merchandise secrets the way Boots Del Biaggio kept his finances secret from the league. As PuckDaddy.com points out the merchandise offerings for the winning team have been purloined from the web for the third consecutive year. After seeing the clothing and caps for Detroit (2008) and Pittsburgh (2009) revealed before they were crowned as champs, it's happened again for Chicago and Philly. We know that t-shirts are $26 - about the cost of the website's encryption.

How Tiger's Been Tamed: Finally, discussing the absence (yet again) of Tiger Woods from the 2010 tournament RBC Canadian Open at St. George's in Toronto, tournament director Bill Paul quipped, "Having walked with Tiger for two holes at The Players (Tournament), I think we will have the premier players here. He wasn't hitting it too well." In the past, even an offhand remark about his eminence would set off a media firestorm. Cast your mind back to a couple of innocuous Tiger comments from Stephen Ames that produced seismic pushback from Woods Inc. The Danish cartoons of Mohamed seemed tame by comparison.

But with Woods trying to heal his life and tattered public image in the wake of his Californication phase, Paul's comments have produced little venom from either Woods or his faithful retainers. The golf media, too, ever eager for a Tiger Stomps All Opposition story in the past have let Paul's comments pass with little fuss. Now if Paul would just invite Elin Woods to the Open...

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