NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman doesn't need to pick a side in tonight's do-or-die Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. After all, history says that Bettman and the NHL have already won - at least when it comes to TV viewers.
The Nielsen Company looked back at the four Stanley Cup Finals match-ups that have gone the full seven games since 2000 and in each case, Game 7 was a ratings windfall. For example, games one through six of the 2006 finals between Edmonton and Carolina averaged 2.4 million viewers. Game 7, however, more than doubled that figure with 5.3 million viewers.
In 2003, when the New Jersey Devils finished off the Anaheim Ducks, Game 7 was watched by 7.2 million U.S. viewers on ABC. Not only did the game attract 140% more viewers than the average of the previous six games, but it was also (and still is) the most-watched Stanley Cup Finals game since at least 1992.
The "Game 7" effect isn't just limited to the NHL. When Detroit and San Antonio took the NBA Finals to the limit in 2005, Game 7 was watched by 65% more viewers than the series average to date. And in the eight MLB World Series or LCS matchups to go the full seven games, since 2000, Game 7 viewership overshadowed the rest of the series' averages each time by anywhere from 74% to 94%.