Lockout puts a hit on Team

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

Radio stations are renowned for their ability to see the positive in just about any number.

Especially around ratings time.

Those savvy marketing minds scour through every available demographic, searching for the figure that gives them reason to proclaim "we're No. 1" to their listeners. Check out the number of ads saying as much after any ratings period.

It's amusing, to say the least.

But nobody's laughing much at The Team 1200 these days. And let's just say any layer of sugarcoating is being applied very thinly and rather judiciously.

Simply put, the NHL lockout is dealing a rather severe bodycheck to some of the station's key ratings numbers. The most telling one: The Team's cumulative weekly audience slid from 116,276 during during BBM Canada's spring ratings period to 64,627 in the fall book -- a staggering drop of about 45%.

"We don't have (NHL) hockey. That's the primary issue this fall compared to last spring," said Chris Gordon, CHUM Radio Ottawa's VP/general manager.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are a few bright lights in the darkness (see, we told you they could find them). Among men 25-54 -- The Team's key target demographic-- the 3 Guys on the Radio morning drive show posted a 10.4 share. That's only slightly off the 11.3 it earned in the spring.

The afternoon drive's "dorks" pulled in a 9.2 share, a slide from 12.5 in that timeslot in the spring, but still more than respectable.

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"I'm thrilled with how the afternoon and morning drive shows have held up," said Gordon. "And NFL football on weekends did great for us."

Even the overall market share (2.0) isn't off that much from fall 2003 (2.4), a more comparable period. But that share grew to 3.5 in the spring.

The grimmest numbers show up after the sun goes down. The 6-9 p.m. period, often anchored by a Senators game, would typically pull in a 17.6 share. That number has crashed to an almost miniscule 2.1 in the fall.

"We used to have 20-25,000 (listeners) on a Saturday night," said Gordon. "Now maybe we have a few thousand."

"The frustrating thing for us is we know hockey brings in a certain (large) amount of listenership."

The worst might be yet to come. The Team's audience level generally rises during the spring ratings period (which begins in five weeks), when hockey interest spikes as the Stanley Cup playoffs approach.

Barring some sort of a miracle, that momentum will be a mere memory in 2005.

"The fall wasn't as big of an issue for us," said Gordon. "We had the Grey Cup (in Ottawa), and there were various other things that were interesting to talk about in the sports world.

"But once we hit the end of the NFL playoffs, what's left in February? People in Ottawa love their hockey. There will be an impact (on ratings) in February and March, no doubt about it."

And no amount of sugarcoat will be able to hide it.


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