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Fans react to Vancouver Canucks Alex Burrows (ANDY CLARK/REUTERS)
Fans react to Vancouver Canucks Alex Burrows (ANDY CLARK/REUTERS)

DAILY GRIND

Dowbiggin: NHL hockey returns with huge U.S. TV ratings Add to ...

There was much talk in social media and on radio about a massive fan backlash when the NHL finally ended its latest lockout in January. Walkouts were threatened, tickets would be returned etc. Especially in the U.S., it was believed that the labour stoppage was a negative game changer for the NHL.

Don’t tell that to NBC. The NHL’s network partner in the U.S. announced that Saturday’s debut broadcasts had the best ratings for any regular season game (outside the Winter Classic) since 2002. The two regional games (Pittsburgh / Philadelphia and Chicago / Los Angeles) scored a 2.0 overnight rating. That’s up 67 per cent over the game average for 2011-12.

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NBC spiked the punch a bit, matching two of its best regional markets in the Penguins / Flyers matchup and another contest featuring the Stanley Cup winners from Los Angeles against a third loyal NHL TV market in Chicago. There were no Nashvilles or Tampas to drag down the Saturday afternoon card.

There was no NFL opposition, either. Just college hoops and the PGA’s Go-Low championship from La Quinta, California with zero star power.

Still, it’s a remarkable showing by a league thought on its back after the protracted acrimony of the lockout. While the numbers are overnights, industry sources believe that the ratings reflect once more the loyalty of fans to their individual clubs and not to the NHL logo itself. While league officials have long despaired about this dichotomy of affection, it might be the best thing for the NHL in this short term.

Ratings from this weekend’s Hockey Night In Canada will be available later Monday. Expect healthier than predicted umbers here, too.

CHARITABLE FALLOUT

There are many lies and deceptions surrounding disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, who attempted damage control with Oprah Winfrey last Thursday and Friday. Suffice to say Armstrong only succeeded in taking his public image down to Bernie Madoff levels during his ill-fated appearance.

Inadvertently he might also have helped Americans learn where to find Winfrey’s vanity TV network on their cable lineup.

(Things might have been worse had Winfrey asked an occasional open-ended question or stuck to a topic for more than 30 seconds. Her scatter-shot approach repeatedly let Armstrong off the hook.)

The great misunderstood issue of Armstrong’s tainted legacy is his celebrated impact on charities. There are those who heard Armstrong’s odious admissions about doping who still believe you must cut him some slack for raising hundreds of millions for cancer research.

But Armstrong was not creating vast pots of charitable dollars. There is a finite amount Americans, Canadians and others give to worthwhile charities regardless of the cause. Armstrong was wildly successful in directing money from the massive pool of disposable dollars already earmarked for charity to his cause, cancer.

Did Armstrong find some money at the bottom of penny jars? Yes. Did he inspire people to raise funds for his chosen charity with his yellow wristbands? Yes.

But his true success came not in winning the Tour de France but winning the cut-throat competition amongst fundraisers for the available money in the system. He was the undisputed champion, to the chagrin of other worthy causes, a gold medalist in getting the willing to tick “cancer” in the box marked for charities.

That stands for something. But to say he created an ocean of charitable dollars in a lousy economy is misleading. Lance did what Lance does so well. He sold the invented myth of his success, this time to the benefit of cancer awareness. Bully.

SUPER BROTHERS

@dowbboy Anyone who thinks the Harbaughs coaching against each other in the SB is special never met the Plagers or Sutters.”

So which NFL teams were U.S. retailers rooting for to make the Super Bowl? According to one U.S. sports marketing chain, San Francisco getting to the Super Bowl is worth $2-million, Baltimore about $1-million. Sunday’s losers? Atlanta, only about $600,000 and New England a little less (because they’ve made it so often before).

None of that will make up for the retail loss of Seattle and Denver, however. This national company estimated those two teams were worth at least $5-million each to their sales if they’d advanced.

HE WILL BE MISSED

It’s difficult for Anglo Canadians to understand the significance of Radio Canada legend Richard Garneau, who died this weekend at the age of 82. The man who covered more Olympics than anyone else in the world, Garneau was a French-speaking amalgam of Dick Irvin, Brian Williams and Don Wittman who exuded class and preparation.

Garneau was involved in sport but stayed above the rabble. An era of Quebec broadcaster goes with the Hockey Hall of Fame honoree from 1999. “@cbctom Sad 2 hear of Richard Garneau’s death. Elegance, class, generosity & ability.” The long time face of Radio Canada Sports RIP.”

dowbboy@shaw.ca / @dowbboy

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