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SPORTS MEDIA

NBC scores big with hockey fans

It might have begun as wishful thinking, a spoken hope for a grand ending to an NHL season that almost never got started.

Several months and one wildly entertaining, widely watched Stanley Cup Final later, it turned out to be satisfying premonition.

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“You never dare expect to get a Chicago-Boston Stanley Cup Final,’’ said Sam Flood, executive producer at NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network and the longtime mastermind behind the networks’ NHL coverage. “You can hope, but you can’t expect it.

“I remember telling someone on a call the second day of the season, ‘The Cup Final is very different if it’s Boston-Chicago rather than Carolina-Ottawa.’ We know that there will be a lot more people watching a Chicago-Boston final. That proved to be true.’’

Did it ever.

The Final averaged a 3.3 household rating and 5.76 million viewers on NBC (Games 1 and 4-6) and NBC Sports Network (Games 2 and 3), with the deciding sixth game earning a 4.7 rating and drawing 8.16 million viewers.

Overall, the household rating was up 83 percent over last year’s Final between Los Angeles and New Jersey, while viewership was up 91 percent.

It is the most-watched Cup Final since viewership records were first kept in 1994.

Flood, who grew up in Dedham and captained the Williams College hockey team in 1983, has just one lament, one shared with Bruins fans: “I just wish there was a Game 7. That would have been something. It disappeared in 17 seconds.”

The reasons for the massive ratings are fairly obvious to anyone who can discern a puck from a ball: The Bruins and Blackhawks are Original Six franchises in large, hockey-appreciative United States markets. And the series was highly competitive, with three overtime games, including a triple-OT thriller to begin the series.

“If anyone sees the spoked-B or the Blackhawks jersey, those are pretty iconic symbols of sports,” said Flood. “You get those two teams together, people care more because of the rich history.

“But it’s also about the growth of hockey over the last number of years. When Chicago won the Cup in 2010 and the Bruins the next year, it really enhanced both markets. They started to consume hockey at a much greater level after they won the Cup.”

In Boston, the Cup was consumed to unprecedented levels. Most of the games earned a rating in the high 20s and low 30s, peaking with a 33.0 rating in the Boston market for Game 6.

For context, consider this: The NFL is the king of televised sport, and locally the Patriots averaged a record 36.36 household rating last season, eclipsing 30 in the Boston market for every game. Even in the Stanley Cup Final, the NHL approaching regular-season NFL numbers is extraordinary.

Overall, the Cup Final ratings didn’t approach the numbers ABC got for the seven-game NBA Finals series between the Spurs and Heat. That series averaged a 10.5 final rating and 17.7 million viewers — increases of 4 percent in rating and 5 percent in viewership from the Heat-Thunder five-game series in 2012. It was the most-watched NBA Final since Celtics-Lakers in 2010.

“Comparing across sports to us is apples and oranges,” said Flood. “The focus is making this sport bigger, making it accessible to more people, and making more people care about it.

“You think about the Winter Classic, you think about ‘Hockey Day in America’ [Saturdays on NBC], you think about ‘Wednesday Night Rivalry’ [on NBCSN], all things that we have created with the NHL to grow the game of hockey.

“I think it makes more people pay attention when we get to the postseason, and when you get lucky and get two teams like the Bruins and Blackhawks, you’re going to have some record ratings.”

It’s interesting, though probably not surprising, that the NBA Finals averaged a 6.2 rating in the Boston market, good for 54th nationwide. With the Celtics bowing out in Round 1 and the Bruins making their run, this was hockey territory.

“Hockey’s always been an important sport in the city, between the Beanpot and some of the great college hockey that goes on,’’ Flood said. “But I think the NHL and the Bruins lost their way for a period there.

“When the [2004-05] lockout ended, it started coming back, and you don’t see an empty seat at the Garden anymore. That’s a pretty important statement about how important and big hockey and the Bruins are to the city right now.’’

Raftery to Fox

Fox Sports 1, which launches in August, had a bit of a coup Thursday with the news that the great Bill Raftery will leave ESPN to call college basketball games on the rebranded network. Raftery, long associated with the Big East, will call the conference’s games on Fox Sports 1, reportedly with Gus Johnson. Raftery will continue to be a part of CBS and Turner’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament coverage in March . . . ESPN did retain one popular prominent personality for the long term, announcing Thursday that college announced football analyst Kirk Herbstreithad signed an extension through 2022 . . . NESN will not renew the contract of Bruins sideline reporter Naoko Funayama when it expires this summer. She has been at NESN since 2007 . . . Comcast SportsNet New England will launch a new baseball show July 1. Titled “The Show,’’ it will feature CSNNE’s Trenni Kusnierek and Rich Levine, Globe columnist Christopher Gasper, and 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Marc Bertrand, with a strong emphasis on social media . . . Still cannot believe ESPN cut away from Aaron Hernandez’s live arraignment Wednesday to get legal analyst Roger Cossack’s opinion. Nothing the network could have aired at the moment would have been more compelling than watching the stone-faced Hernandez listen as the prosecution revealed in extraordinary detail what it believes to be the timeline of the crime.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.
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