What were Boston sports fans watching on a crazy Wednesday night?
As you may have heard, Boston sports fans have enjoyed an abundance of riches over the last two decades. Rumor has it that no fewer than 12 championships have been won by New England’s primary professional sports teams this century.
The ongoing success of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics has led to random evenings when we have a smorgasbord so abundant it’s difficult to decide where to focus our attention.
Wednesday gave us one of those crazy nights. Our options included three compelling games spread over six channels/networks, plus a program that revealed relevant information on the most successful — and popular — team of all of them.
This is what we had for options, in order of start time:
6:35 p.m.: Game 2 of the first Red Sox-Yankees series of the season (NESN Plus, ESPN).
7 p.m.: Game 2 of the Celtics-Pacers first-round NBA playoff series (NBC Sports Boston, TNT).
7 p.m.: Game 4 of the Bruins-Maple Leafs first-round Stanley Cup playoff series (NESN, NBC Sports Network).
8 p.m.: NFL schedule reveal show (better known around here as finally finding out whom the 2019 Patriots play when), NFL Network.
A few hours before the various festivities began Wednesday, I fired off the following question on Twitter:
“Assuming they’re all competitive, which game will you watch the most tonight?”
More than 2,700 voted, and the results were: Bruins-Maple Leafs, 56 percent; Celtics-Pacers, 32 percent; Red Sox-Yankees, 12 percent.
I’m sure all of us jumped around based on priorities, preferences, and when the commercial breaks happened. (I stuck mostly with the Celtics for the Kyrie Irving tour de force.)
But the main reason for asking was curiosity regarding how closely the poll results would jibe with the ratings once the games had been played.
Turns out, they jibed pretty closely.
Based on preliminary ratings available Wednesday afternoon (they will adjust slightly based on the specific times games actually ended), the Bruins won the night, but not by an enormous margin over the Celtics. The Red Sox also did decent numbers, probably because many of us can’t resist rubbernecking at disaster.
The Bruins game, a 6-4 victory, had the greatest consequences — they entered trailing, 2-1, in the series. It also had the best ratings, delivering a combined 7.9 in the Boston market — a 4.1 on NBCSN and a 3.8 on NESN.
And it could have been even higher: NESN said its rating was affected by an error in the cable listings on multiple providers (including Comcast Xfinity, Verizon Fios, and DirecTV) that said NESN was showing a “Bruins in Two” re-air from 2013 rather than the game.
NESN said that in the previous seven Bruins first-round playoff games that also aired nationally, it averaged 85-90 percent of the audience. Wednesday night, it got 49 percent. Tellingly, it won five of the last six quarter-hours, suggesting that viewers misled by their cable guide eventually realized the game was on NESN and switched over.
The Celtics, who rallied for a 99-91 win and a 2-0 lead in the series, delivered a combined 5.7 — a 3.3 on NBC Sports Boston and a 2.4 on TNT.
The Red Sox, who fell to 6-13 after Brett Gardner’s seventh-inning grand slam propelled the Yankees to a 5-3 comeback win, got a combined 4.4 — a 2.2 on both NESN Plus and ESPN. That’s a solid set of numbers considering the Red Sox were up against two playoff games, the local broadcast was on NESN’s secondary channel, and they’ve been a mess.
(As of publication time, an NFL Network spokesman did not respond to a request for the Boston ratings for its schedule-release program. I bet it did well considering it wasn’t a game but the announcement of an itinerary.)
What’s especially interesting are the ebbs and flows depending upon what was happening in the various games. The Celtics game ended around 9:15, with the Bruins and Red Sox ending approximately 15 minutes later. It wasn’t just that there was a lot of drama packed into the night. Much of it was condensed into that window from the final minutes of the Celtics game until the Bruins and Red Sox wrapped up their nights in decidedly different fashion.
The Bruins on NESN went from 4.9 rating at 8:30 p.m. to a 2.9 at 8:45, then back to a 4.9 at 9, peaking with a 7.4 at 9:30. In the same span, NBCSN’s coverage went from 4.8 to 2.7 and up to a 4.8, peaking with a 5.4 at 9:30.
Why the 8:45 p.m. dip? Well, the melting-into-a-puddle Sox were drawing viewers’ attention. Ratings for ESPN’s coverage rose from 2.4 at 8:30 to 3.7 at 8:45, then back down to 1.9 at 9. Over on NESN Plus, there was a similar pattern with similar numbers: 2.6/4.0/1.6.
Meanwhile, the audience for the Celtics on NBCSB rose steadily in an overlapping window. At 8:15 p.m. the broadcast had a 1.8 rating, but that climbed in 15-minute increments over the next hour to 3.1, then 4.3, 5.9, and finally, at 9:15 p.m., a 6.0. Ratings in the same span on TNT climbed from 2.2 at 8:15 p.m. to 3.6 at 9:15.
(Worth noting: Nothing changed significantly when the final overall Nielsen numbers came in Thursday night. The Bruins got a boost to an 8.36 —4.16 on NESN and 4.20 on NBC Sports Network. The Celtics combined for a 5.82 — 3.34 on NBC Sports Boston and 2.48 on TNT; and the Red Sox delivered a 4.48 — 2.26 on NESN-plus; 2.22 on ESPN).
Of course there were even more ways to consume the games. In ye olden days (you know, the 1990s), we would have needed deft remote-control skills to navigate all of this. Wednesday night, with streaming options that included NESNgo or the NBC Sports app, it was a simple but crucial matter of getting your various screens organized and determining priorities.
Poll participant Tim Stone (@timstone47) on Twitter might have put it best.
“B’s on TV, Sox on NESN Go on phone Celts on NBC Sports app on iPad,’’ he wrote at 8:30 p.m., right in the middle of it all. “Sometimes the 21st Century isn’t awful.”