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Abel to Yzerman

The NHL All-Star Game - So Unpopular It’s Not Even Worth Stealing

I don’t have access to Nielsen Ratings.  I don’t have access to any other metrics that our imp commissioner, Li’l Gary Bettman, has at his disposal to measure ratings of NHL hockey games.

Thanks to our tireless interns at A2Y, I do have access to some of the darker, seedier corners of The Gore.  Areas where people known as “The Scene” spread their warez across the internet, much to the utter dismay of copyright holders and the DMCA.  In short, “The Scene” is where piracy originates online, the source of greater than 95% of illegally shared and downloaded files.  Once stolen, The Scene releases files for distribution to so-called “Topsites” which then share the files to the rest of the internet with the files eventually working their way down to being shared via Peer-to-Peer (P2P) transfers, like Bit-torrents, and direct download sites, like the recently shutdown Megaupload site.

From this research an alarming, but not surprising, fact becomes apparent:  the NHL All-Star Game is so unpopular among the general public that online pirates don’t even bother stealing it for file-sharing.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone piracy.  As someone in the entertainment industry, I understand how expensive it is to get anything produced, marketed, and distributed, even disregarding big-budget corporate releases.  Without financial compensation to support themselves, no artist will be able to create anything for very long.  The debate of fair compensation and the implication of piracy as a whole is far beyond the scope of this blog, so let’s move things along.

Monitoring of The Scene does offer some very valuable market research not available through official channels, and I definitely try and keep my finger on the pulse of what people are pirating, sharing, and downloading through non-legitimate channels to obtain the Neilsen Ratings of the black market.

The Scene is massive and essentially unstoppable.  It operates under heavily-codified rules which are rigidly self-enforced and govern everything from acceptable quality standards and the precise method of naming released files to forbidding the posting of duplicate releases of the same content someone has already released.  Among the only exceptions to the non-duplication rule is when releases are offered at different resolutions, for instance a full 720p release compared to a compressed HDTV file of a lower resolution and size, and when there is a specific and declared problem with the original release on the warez scene it will be “nuked” and a corrected, “PROPER”, duplicate release will be allowed to replace the original file on the Topsites.

Competition exists among pirates to be the first to correctly steal and release, and bragging rights are obtained by the pirate (or piracy group) through writing their name as the very last word of the pirated file’s name.  Typically, bragging rights are the only thing The Scene pirates seek, all trying to earn a reputation as the best and fastest content pirates/Topsite on the planet.  Piracy, like most crimes of theft, is a crime of opportunity and demand.  In particular, if there is no demand for the stolen good/content, there is very little incentive to steal for the would-be thief/pirate.

Special websites aggregate almost everything released by The Scene, categorized by content type, so users can download from the content pirates with a simple mouse click.  Point, Click, and Steal convenience for anyone who wants to download the pirated release.  It is from these aggregate websites that download numbers can be obtained.  For every download from an aggregate site, the number of downloads further “downstream” from the Topsites increase exponentially.  Every “hit”, or download, on just one popular aggregate site is typically worth at least 50 downloads via P2P and direct download sites, and usually well over 100 downloads “downstream” per hit. 

While the exact number can be a bit imprecise, there are ways to track Bit-torrent downloads via P2P trackers very precisely, and it is in this way that content creators find those who are illegally file-sharing their content to pursue legal threats or even litigation.  Also keep in mind, it is very difficult to track the number of people tuning into illegal live online streaming broadcasts of sports (or any TV) broadcasts, even though many people watch sports on an online stream instead of downloading sporting events.  Both these methods are more research than I am willing to do, as a clear enough picture can be derived just from monitoring a release’s popularity on the aggregate sites.

Enough of the lesson about the Warez Scene, allow me to discuss how this black market research relates to the (non-)popularity of the NHL’s All-Star Game.


The above screenshot is taken from one of the most popular aggregate sites for the warez scene anywhere on the internet.  Listed, as of an hour ago when the screenshot was taken, are the last 48 sporting events pirated by The Scene, the number of downloads (or hits), and the age of the file, in the “Sports” category of the aggregate site.

Missing among the various releases, quite obviously to any hockey fan, is the NHL All-Star Game or All-Star Skills Competition.  This is a clear indication that there is very little demand for Li’l Gary Bettman’s All-Star fiasco.  Despite the league touting the importance of the event in terms of sponsors and the media, it remains painfully clear that the general public doesn’t really care about this “major” league event at all.

So what sporting events are more popular than the NHL All-Star Game, thus warranting online pirates stealing and distributing the files to the public?

The UFC on Fox event Saturday night is the most popular event, followed by the WWE Royal Rumble.  The Australian Open finals, both mens and womens, are listed as are the semifinals for the event.  Those are major events for their respective sports, but the NHL executive office will argue the NHL All-Star game is a major event for the NHL.

Let’s examine some of the other sports events which are popular enough for The Scene to pirate to gauge what exactly IS more popular than the NHL’s All-Star Game. 

There is the FA Cup Round 4 from the UK, there is also a recent MFC event (a Canadian mixed martial arts promotion), as well as a weekly WWE show, Smackdown, and iMPACT wrestling, a WWE competitor.  In addition to a handful of NBA games and the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, we find that the Australian Track Cycling Championship is more popular than the ASG, I know everyone must be talking about that one around the water cooler today.  The UFC is so much more popular than the NHL’s All-Star Game that even the Weigh-Ins to the UFC on Fox event were pirated, why you would want to see men in underwear get weighed is beyond me, even though you can watch the weigh-ins for free online both live and afterwards through completely legal sources. 

We find some of the most unusual events, which were still more popular than the NHL All-Star Game, listed.  Want to learn how to wakeboard?  Well apparently so do nearly 100 downloaders, so far, who would rather watch that than the NHL All-Star hoopla.  The NHL is being trumped by Motocross events, both the Red Bull X Fighters World Tour (of 2008) and the AMA Supercross events (450 & 250 divisions) in Oakland this past weekend.  When dirtbikes generate more interest than your annual NHL spectacle, Li’l Gary, maybe it’s time to reconsider the viability of the All-Star Game.

In case you’re curious, here are the most popular events since January 1, 2011, based upon downloads from The Scene’s Topsites on a major aggregate site:




A very clear pattern emerges, the UFC is absolutely destroying the NHL in terms of popularity and interest among people watching sports, something I was trying to tell Li’l Gary, a couple of years ago, only to be dismissed with that special condescension Li’l Gary reserves just for us hockey fans.

To me the highlights of the current list of sporting events pirated, which are clearly more important to the general public based upon demand than the NHL All-Star Game, is the Global Starcraft 2 League (which is a televised VIDEO GAME competition) and the 2004 DVD release, Back in the Saddle Again, promoted by the publisher as such:

Well, those ornery varmints at Pist-n-Broke are back again with the follow up to the sleeper hit of 2002. All yer favorite gunslingers will be saddling up for the most fun one can have on 2 wheels without getting tossed in the Hoosegow.

I couldn’t have said it any better myself. 

Thanks Gary.  Ass.

Filed in: | Abel to Yzerman | Permalink


SYF's avatar

Fangsites’ overnight numbers on the Nielsen ratings for the NHL Gary.ASSG.

And they’re gonna have this thing in Columbus next year?  Really?

Posted by SYF from Twerkin' with Anastasia Ashley on 01/30/12 at 04:17 PM ET


So you’re saying that nobody pirated the All-Star game compared to…nobody pirating NHL hockey in general.

And somehow there’s a conclusion to be reached beyond there’s “no demand for pirated hockey games”?

Posted by Garth on 01/30/12 at 04:21 PM ET

WolfKeeper's avatar

NHL games (and other leagues) are distributed, you have to know where to look. It’s not “nobody”, but it’s a very small, die hard group via torrents.

Posted by WolfKeeper on 01/30/12 at 04:23 PM ET

VooX's avatar

Posted by Garth on 01/30/12 at 01:21 PM ET

NHL games are pirated, usually major network broadcasts, and typically only one or two games per week.  With the All-Star break spanning more than the past three days, these games did not show up on the list above.

Posted by WolfKeeper on 01/30/12 at 01:23 PM ET

These die hard group via torrents you describe, I also am aware of, but almost all of their releases mirror what is first released via Topsites.  They then work themselves down to the torrent sites you describe.

Posted by VooX from Behind the Bar in the Hasek Club Car on 01/30/12 at 04:26 PM ET

VooX's avatar

Posted by SYF from Dr. Ima Tearadikov’s “Office” on 01/30/12 at 01:17 PM ET

Thanks for the link, have a drink on me, SYF.

The NHL’s 1.1 rating is flat with last year’s performance.


UFC on Fox earns 2.7 overnight, down from 3.5 for November debut. 2hour telecast vs. 1 hour last time. Fox wins night among adults18-49

really give a clear picture of how poorly the All-Star Game event fares among sports fans.

Posted by VooX from Behind the Bar in the Hasek Club Car on 01/30/12 at 04:28 PM ET

VooX's avatar

Also, the UFC on Fox event was an absolute stinker, I am sure there will be numbers indicating a steady decline in viewers as the event progressed.  Despite the less-than-ideal way the fights ended up being fought, it is clear that the UFC still generates enough interest to get the best ratings among the vital 18-49 demographic.

Posted by VooX from Behind the Bar in the Hasek Club Car on 01/30/12 at 04:30 PM ET

Keyser S.'s avatar

Who ended up winning and what was the score?

I watched it long enough to decide I’d rather watch the pond hockey game on the lake which was more competitive.

Posted by Keyser S. on 01/30/12 at 04:40 PM ET

SYF's avatar

Slainte, VooX.

A Black-and-Tanner would be perfect.

Posted by SYF from Twerkin' with Anastasia Ashley on 01/30/12 at 04:40 PM ET


NHL games are pirated, usually major network broadcasts, and typically only one or two games per week.

Exactly.  There are dozens of games a week and maybe one or two are pirated.

really give a clear picture of how poorly the All-Star Game event fares among sports fans.

Again, how many UFC fights are there?  You’re comparing the second ever UFC fight on network television with the 736th game of the NHL season.  And an exhibition game at that.

What next, are you going to compare it to how many people watch the Super Bowl?  Or how many people watched the finale of Seinfeld?

Posted by Garth on 01/30/12 at 04:42 PM ET

WolfKeeper's avatar

I think the “scene” is getting leakers from this group/tracker. Looking back to last Tuesday, I see almost every (if not every) NHL game available from that night.

I used to capture and distribute a certain AHL team’s games a few years ago with these guys, and some of them were so fast with their releases they had the first period of an NHL game captured, edited, and encoded before the end of the game.

Posted by WolfKeeper on 01/30/12 at 04:43 PM ET

SYF's avatar

I only caught the ending, Keyser.

Team Chara 12
Team Alfredsson 9

MVP:  Marian Gaborik.  3G, 1A.

Dangles, playing for TC, recorded 3A in the game and Jimmah started for TC in the first period.

Posted by SYF from Twerkin' with Anastasia Ashley on 01/30/12 at 04:45 PM ET

WingsFanInBeanLand's avatar

Wasn’t the Pro-Bowl this weekend as well.  I may have missed it but i didn’t see that on the list either.

Posted by WingsFanInBeanLand from where free agents no longer dare. on 01/30/12 at 04:56 PM ET

VooX's avatar

Again, how many UFC fights are there?  You’re comparing the second ever UFC fight on network television with the 736th game of the NHL season.  And an exhibition game at that.

In the past month, since December 30, there have been 4 UFC events, two of which were PPV.  Going back one more month,  we have an additional 3 UFC events, two of which were PPV.

Also, there is only ONE All-Star Game every year in the NHL, this is not the 736th All-Star Game of the season. 

With the roster of stars and heavy promotion specifically around the All-Star event, I argue that comparing the ASG to major UFC events, which happen on a very regular basis, is a valid comparison for ratings numbers.  After all, the UFC does not enjoy favour among the mainstream sports media to nearly the extent the NHL, NBA, NFL, etc., does.  Otherwise it would not be illegal to even hold a Mixed-Martial Arts event in the country’s largest sports market, New York state.

What next, are you going to compare it to how many people watch the Super Bowl?  Or how many people watched the finale of Seinfeld?

You also ignore the MFC, a small MMA organization based in Alberta, Canada, which has no network support, except for on HDNet which is having worse carriage disputes with US broadcast systems than Versus did a few years ago.  Think it’s hard to find Versus in your area? Try getting HDNet.  Even in Canada, only a very small percentage of subscribers will have access to the channel on their TV, as the majors have removed HDNet from their lineup.

How about motocross, would you compare a weekly event in Oakland a Super Bowl-like juggernaut to compete with the NHL?  How about video gaming tournaments?  I know you can’t be talking about those confangled cowboys trying to avoid the Hoosegow.

Posted by VooX from Behind the Bar in the Hasek Club Car on 01/30/12 at 04:58 PM ET

VooX's avatar

Posted by WingsFanInBeanLand from Lidstrom’s head telling him 1 more year on 01/30/12 at 01:56 PM ET

Correct on both counts.  How many football fans watch that event?  In fact, in an attempt to increase ratings they placed the Pro Bowl in the weekend off before the Super Bowl as opposed to afterwards as they have in the past.

Posted by VooX from Behind the Bar in the Hasek Club Car on 01/30/12 at 04:59 PM ET

VooX's avatar

Posted by WolfKeeper on 01/30/12 at 01:43 PM ET

Absolutely correct.  While Topsites account for 95% of piracy, small and committed file-sharers will fill in the gaps for their own interests.  Where there is enough interest, there will be file sharing and piracy, even if the interest is among a very small group of people.

In general, Topsite analysis will give a better indicator of OVERALL popularity, than ABSOLUTE popularity.  Just because there is no explicit sexual movies involving children on Topsites and on aggregate sites, that doesn’t mean there aren’t horrible people sharing those types of images using the same system that the Topsites used, but on an exclusive and private basis.  A horrible example, I know, but a very stark reminder how deep the internet goes in terms of content sharing.

Posted by VooX from Behind the Bar in the Hasek Club Car on 01/30/12 at 05:04 PM ET


Also, there is only ONE All-Star Game every year in the NHL, this is not the 736th All-Star Game of the season.

It’s still an exhibition game.

And it’s on Sunday afternoon on a national network.  Anyone who gives a damn can watch it live (either on TV or on NBC.com or CBC.com or any of the countless websites that stream every single televised sports game in the world).  Lots of people love the UFC but don’t stay home for it whether it’s on network TV or PPV on a Saturday night, instead downloading it and watching it on Sunday morning, afternoon or evening, or sometime during the week.

And the fact that UFC outdraws the AASG means nothing since the UFC outdraws most NHL telecasts anyhow.

You also ignore the MFC, a small MMA organization based in Alberta, Canada, which has no network support

MMA is one of the most popular sports in the world, so somehow you’re surprised that an MMA federation that is televised but not widely available is popular?

Pay Per Views events that cost people money and events that aren’t nationally televised are the most popular things to pirate. Word to the wise, ANYTHING that you have to pay for is going to be more popular to pirate than anything you get for free.  Have you ever watched a CAM of a movie before?  That’s the one where someone sticks a camera in his jacket and records the movie in the theatre with garbage audio and the screen cut off.  I know people who exclusively watch movies like that because they don’t want to pay to see movies in the theatre.

Pay TV (ie HBO, Showtime) and smaller cable networks (AMC, FX) are more in demand than network TV as well.

If you want to make comparisons, the fact that the UFC and the NHL are both sports isn’t enough.  You need to compare apples to apples and you’re comparing apples to dump trucks here.

Posted by Garth on 01/30/12 at 05:13 PM ET

VooX's avatar

Posted by Garth on 01/30/12 at 02:13 PM ET

Unfortunately the numbers don’t support your notion that

Pay TV (ie HBO, Showtime) and smaller cable networks (AMC, FX) are more in demand than network TV as well

With the exception of Spartacus S02E01 and the WWE Royal Rumble, over the past 7 days the most popular Topsite releases in the TV category are all network shows.  Network shows like The Big Bang Theory, Alcatraz, Touch, Fringe,

The first specialty channel that pops up is Jersey Shore (20th position with a bit more than 1/3 the hits of the Top 5 shows) and in 29th position, for the week, and that is Californication S05E04 (1/3 the hits of the top 5).  After that it is Pawn Stars S04E69 in 42nd position for the week that is the next non-network show, and that only receives 1/5th the downloads as the top 5 shows.

For the most part, despite the availability on free TV and even legal websites for networks, people still download the most popular shows on TV far more often than harder-to-obtain shows.

MMA is one of the most popular sports in the world, so somehow you’re surprised that an MMA federation that is televised but not widely available is popular?

MMA is one of the fastest GROWING sports, not one of the most popular sports OVERALL in the world.  It features the greatest year-to-year increase in the number of professional athlete registrations of all major sports.

It is certainly not one of the most popular sports in the world, yet, as it faces fierce opposition from those opposed to “human cockfighting” both in the public and governments.  Combine this with the negative publicity tactics by mainstream boxing promoters, like Bob Arum one of the most vocal critics of MMA, and the fact boxing fans often don’t understand the nuances of the submission grappling aspect of MMA, and it has been a long and slow road to mainstream acceptance.

Sports like football (American and soccer), baseball, hockey, basketball, boxing, NASCAR, F1 racing, tennis, and even cricket, rugby, and professional wrestling have much more widespread global appeal and popularity than MMA, which has not penetrated global sports and popular culture nearly as much as those sports I have listed.

Despite the fact that the NFL, NHL, and NBA are different sports, it is completely appropriate to evaluate ratings appeal, despite them being completely different sports as they are in the same time frame.  Adding to the mix boxing and MMA events, is not comparing apples to oranges, as you suggest, but popularity of sport to sport.

While the Super Bowl is by far the most watched game in North America, the World Cup finals draw far more global numbers than the Super Bowl.  Is it unfair to compare those events despite the fact that the World Cup occurs every four years instead of annually?  I would say it is a fair comparison as we are evaluating (global) ratings numbers for major events, which do give a good indication of overall popularity of a sport or sporting event.

Posted by VooX from Behind the Bar in the Hasek Club Car on 01/30/12 at 05:38 PM ET

Sullyosis's avatar

Take a break a break VooX, I believe you.

But damn fine work here, it’s weird seeing facts that shed light on how unpopular little Gary’s gimmicks are.

And let’s face it, if we live in a hockey starved environment, we see the affects of this data on a daily basis over the course of the season. Can I talk hockey with any of my co-workers? Of course I can’t, I live in AZ. Enough people here voted whatsisnuts into the ASG from Phx (was it Hanzal?) but the overall culture here indicates no one gives a crap about hockey, much less the ASG.

And the internet reflects this. Plus, you have data to back it up.

What’s it like though…you know…inside the matrix?

Posted by Sullyosis from A hateful lair in Post Apocalyptic US (or Arizona) on 01/30/12 at 06:12 PM ET

Primis's avatar

Here’s all you need to know.

We were watching the AHL Skills Competition on FS DET.  It ran about 2 hours I guess.  It started 1 hour before the NHL ASG.

When time for the ASG came… we left it on the AHL Skills Competition.

This despite no GR Griffins being at AHL All-Star Weekend.


Posted by Primis on 01/30/12 at 06:17 PM ET

Matt Fry's avatar

How can the NHL hope to compete with The Book Wakeboard instructional series?  There’s no way… wink

Posted by Matt Fry from Winnipeg on 01/30/12 at 06:28 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

I still enjoy watching the ASG and the skills competition. I get that the event is mostly held for the sake of courting sponsors amidst the game’s biggest stars and padding the wallets of whichever ownership group has done Gary a favor and/or needs a pick-me-up in the PR department (which is why the game’s going to a location that Wings fans can drive to, which is cool given the fact that the Wings won’t host another one until they build their new rink)...

But players who spend most of the year beating each other up are reminded that their opponents are human while getting to showcase their skills and plain old have fun playing an exhibition game together, hometown heroes are hailed and players like Jimmy Howard go ha-ha about finally having “arrived” because they genuinely appreciate the invite and go back to their teams feeling like they’ve got even bigger expectations to live up to and more potential to fulfill.

The game isn’t very competitive but we have to remember that not every team gets to enjoy playing alongside Datsyuk or Lidstrom while playing a system that’s both demanding and plain old fun to play, and for those players, the game is a breath if fresh air.

Just as importantly, the break gives both teams and fans a chance to recharge their batteries for the stretch run, and I don’t know about you, but even I needed a break from hockey after the Wings played 11 times in 19 nights.

No, the game is not must-see TV, and if you believe the mainstream media, it’s a scourge upon the earth to be forced to cover for free (mingling with superstars and free airfare, hotel, admission, etc. included), but taken as nothing more than a half-hearted skills competition (nobody wants to get hurt) and an exhibition game which includes some of the game’s best players just goofing around and having fun, it’s actually a pretty darn enjoyable, light-hearted weekend which let’s us all recharge and relax a bit.

I really enjoy it and when it’s over I’m kinda grateful for it, slightly boring at times game included.

It’s never going to go away, so we may as well try to accept it for what it is.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 01/30/12 at 06:45 PM ET

YzermanZetterberg's avatar

Not sure if anyone pointed this out but, in addition to the original network broadcast, the NHL ASG and Skills Competition are both being rebroadcast several times on the NHL Network and “the network formerly known as Vs.”

Posted by YzermanZetterberg on 01/30/12 at 07:49 PM ET

Rumbear's avatar

6 days without hockey….it’s like the October schedule all over again.  I’m okay now….the shakes have stopped, the twitches are controllable, and the stutter is bbbetter.

C’mon Tuesday…Ima waiting.

Posted by Rumbear from Top O the Hasek, Czech out my recliner..... on 01/30/12 at 10:28 PM ET

monkey's avatar

Black markets typically exist when the legitimate market is inadequate in some way; prices too high, supplies too low, etc.

The NHL All-Star game was broadcast on the, uh, NBC Sports Network, not exactly ESPN I know but not as hard to come by as, say, the Big Ten Network (depending on where you live that is.  I’m bitter.  I admit it).

Anyway, there isn’t any point in stealing something that’s available for free.

I would say your data regarding how many UFC fights are available as illegal downloads indicates that there is a strong and relatively under supplied demand for this content.  That has nothing at all to do with how popular that content is relative to any other content (incidentally I couldn’t help but notice that on your second list the NFL, NBA, NHL, and NCAA appeared a combined total of zero times.  You are going to have a very hard time convincing anyone that UFC is more popular than all those leagues).

Posted by monkey from Prague on 01/30/12 at 11:33 PM ET


It’s not as great as the MLB all star game but is better than the Pro Bowl by far. Who remembers the NHL all star game when they experimented with the light up puck? Although it won’t be the same this year without Ovechkin and Crosby.

Posted by FromThisSeat.com from Cincinnati, OH on 02/01/12 at 03:51 AM ET

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Welcome to Abel to Yzerman, a Red Wing blog since 1977.  No other site on the internet has better-researched, fact-laden and better prepared discussions than A2Y.  Re-phrase: we do little research, find facts and stats highly overrated and claim little to no preparation.  There are 19 readers of A2Y. No more, no less. All of them, except maybe one, are juvenile in nature.  Reminding them of that in the comment section will only encourage them to prove that. Your suggestions and critiques are welcome: wphoulihan@gmail.com