Today was the championship match in the UEFA Champions League as the top two European club teams faced off. Manchester United, the most popular and most hated soccer club in the world, came in to this match having just won their third straight English Premier League title and as defending champions in the UEFA Cup. FC Barcelona was this year's champion in Spain's La Liga. Christiano Ronaldo of Man U won Player of the Year, while Lionel Mussi of Barca finished second in the voting.
The Detroit Red Wings just beat the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. They will meet the team the faced last year, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Last year, the Red Wings beat the Pens in a harder-than-thought-but-ultimately-easy six games. The stories for this series include the leading scorer in the season and playoffs with Evgeni Malkin, co-leader in the playoffs and face of the league Sidney Crosby and their fight for playoff MVP, Marian Hossa who rejected a 7-year offer from the Pens to sign a 1-year deal with the Wings so he can win the Stanley Cup and a city in Detroit who while the economy has been disastrous, the team continues to be a symbol of pride. Basically, it's the face of the league against the glamour franchise for the past 15 years.
The subject of dream matchups has been much discussed in the NBA as everything has been focused on Kobe vs LeBron. The Cavs and the Lakers finished as the top two teams in the NBA and it seemed like an inevitability that these two would meet in the NBA Finals. So much so, that Nike and Vitamin Water have already started to prepare with their own Kobe vs LeBron ad campaigns. However, funny thing happened along the way, the Orlando Magic lead their series with Cleveland 3-1 and are a win away from ruining the dream matchup. Meanwhile, the Lakers just finished a hard earned victory tonight over the Denver Nuggets and they now lead 3-2 in that series, that should end up going seven.
So there in lies the issue, how beneficial is the dream matchup and more importantly, if it doesn't come about, is the real matchup good enough? Let's take a look back through all sports for the past decade to see how they have faired in getting their dream matchup.
The NBA should be first as it seems most people think the league will stop at nothing to get their series. Last season, they had the biggest rivalry in league history resume with the Lakers-Celtics series and it still wasn't the highest rated series even on ABC; that honor belongs to the final Shaq and Kobe Lakers in 2004 when they lost to Detroit. Of course, no one ever moved the meter in ratings like Michael Jordan, who was able to make Chicago-Utah in 1998 the all-time high for the NBA in ratings. However, with the San Antonio Spurs being the dominant team in the decade, along with a particularly weak Eastern Conference turning the NBA Finals into formality, ABC has still been unable to do will with ratings. The best ratings tend to occur in years an East team win, since it's not expected.
The NHL has had more trouble finding their dream scenario. The best ratings the NHL has received this decade was the Devils-Stars series in 2000 which averaged a 3.7. Detroit and Pittsburgh is currently the dream matchup because of the players on the Pens and the history of the Red Wings. It also doesn't hurt to have two markets that will do ratings in the 30's for the Cup finals. The NHL has been too often stuck with the Anaheims and the Carolina's in their finals. They have, however, had three years of a Canadian team in the Cup finals helping their CBC ratings. Still, no series has come close to getting the one game rating Game 7 in the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals had when the Rangers beat Vancouver. While not a dream matchup, since Detroit was the West's number 1 seed that year and Toronto made the Western Finals, that game ended up being the highest rated NHL game in North America and hasn't been topped yet.
Since the Super Bowl never fails in the ratings and I would assume 200 million people will watch the Champions League final regardless who's there, the World Series is the last one that has to worry about dream matchup. Baseball back even twenty-five years ago would get ratings between 23 and 32 on average and Game 7 of the 1986 Mets-Red Sox series got a 38.9, very Super Bowl-like. Even more Super Bowl-like is that Philadelphia and Kansas City in 1980 is the highest rated World Series.
But now, the World Series now has to worry about outdrawing the NBA Finals. They need the dream matchup more than anyone, but can never get it. The closest they came was in 2003 when the Yankees faced the Red Sox in the ALCS and the Cubs faced the Florida Marlins in the NLCS. If the Cubs would of held their lead, a series with the Yankees would have been tremendous because of the Cubs title drought and their position as a national team, like the Yanks and Sox. The best series matchup in the 2000's has to be the 2004 World Series between the Red Sox and the Cardinals, but that ended way to early. The only other dream matchups since the strike were both series between the Braves and the Yankees.
It's obvious that this decade in sports have been unsuccessful in creating the matchups the causal sports fans want to see and it appears that they simply won't tune in and get to know new stars. Does this mean that if the NBA Finals is Denver and Orlando, no one will tune in for Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard? I don't know, but I do know the NBA doesn't want to find out, even if they can only keep one of them in. Because as we learned today from the Champions League final, if the two best teams and the two best players are involved, the world will stop and watch.