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Sports Media

The Cup spilleth over

WBZ mops up spring ratings

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / July 15, 2011

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It’s the obvious question of the aftermath: How much of The Sports Hub’s success - it finished first in the Boston market with an 8.8 share, while WEEI (including AM and FM numbers) was fourth with a 5.6 - was related to the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup?

The answer depends on which Brighton phone number you call.

“We’ve seen steady growth outside of Bruins season and Patriots season,’’ said Mike Thomas, program director at The Sports Hub (98.5 FM), which airs game broadcasts for both teams. “All the shows have been moving in the right direction and have done a great job of bonding with the fans of Boston. So I think it goes well beyond the play-by-play rights that we have. But there is no doubt that the Bruins and the buzz that everyone felt in this city, with it being so long since they had won the Stanley Cup, it took everything to such an extreme level.’’

Jason Wolfe, Thomas’s counterpart at WEEI, said it’s not particularly a surprise that The Sports Hub caught the wave of the Bruins’ success, since his station is rather familiar with the benefits of broadcasting a championship team’s games.

“It’s happened to us with the Red Sox [in 2004 and ’07] and the Celtics in 2008 and last year,’’ said Wolfe. “Our ratings have stayed steadily high, but there’s no doubt they reaped the benefits of broadcasting their games and that association with a championship team.’’

Wolfe said he was “proud of the quality’’ of the station’s coverage of the Bruins, which included having the Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont and NESN play-by-play voice Jack Edwards make regular appearances on the afternoon-drive “The Big Show’’ as well as recurring call-ins from players Brad Marchand and Andrew Ference.

But it also became apparent, particularly in June, that there was some backlash toward WEEI for its ambivalence, to put it gently, regarding the Bruins through the years. Among their recent hosts, only Dale Arnold talked about hockey without an underlying tone of mockery.

“We did talk about them when callers wanted to talk about them,’’ Wolfe said. “But the interest, in terms of callers, wasn’t always there compared to the Red Sox, the Celtics, the Patriots. The Bruins always have meant a lot to Boston fans, but they hadn’t won the Cup in 40 or so years and hadn’t made it to the Finals in about 20.’’

The Sports Hub’s victory in the spring book was no surprise given that it had topped WEEI in the April and May monthlies, the first two months of the three counted during the quarter. It’s not as if WEEI was lacking for quality live-game programming itself during the spring book, with the early weeks of the Red Sox season and the Celtics’ postseason included in the March 31-June 22 window.

The numbers in June, when the Bruins completed their postseason run, were downright overwhelming in The Sports Hub’s favor. In the men 25-54 demo, the Sports Hub earned a 10.5 share in June, with all of its daily programming winning its particular time slot, including a 14.6 for the nighttime programming (including Bruins broadcasts) and a 14.3 share for morning drive’s “Toucher and Rich’’ program.

“I don’t think any of us knew [how big the ratings would be],’’ Thomas said. “We could see what was happening week to week [from Arbitron], but once we got into May and the Bruins’ series with Philly was ending and we got into the Tampa Bay series [in the Eastern Conference finals], we were like, ‘OK, we’re really getting some momentum here.’ We knew it was going to be great, but we’d never been through it before.’’

With the Bruins season complete and the Red Sox, over on WEEI, shaping up to be the next Boston team to seriously contend for a championship, perhaps the ultimate telling moment will come when the summer Arbitron ratings are released Oct. 4. But before any confirmation comes, there will be time to celebrate at The Sports Hub.

“We all are extremely happy,’’ Thomas said. “The on-air personalities, to everyone behind the scenes, it’s been incredible. But the nature of our business is that you don’t get much time to celebrate. You’re only as good as the next ratings that come out, and in this business, you’re judged every week. If we sat back and said, ‘Hey, we did it, job over,’ we wouldn’t be here very long. Just like the Bruins did, we’re going to celebrate, but I think we’ll all keep our shirts on.’’

Tappen skates away In what’s probably the worst-kept secret in Boston sports media, Kathryn Tappen is leaving NESN to join the NHL Network. She formally informed her bosses at NESN of her decision last week.

The anchor on Bruins pregame and postgame coverage since her arrival in 2006, Tappen will be difficult to replace, particularly given NESN’s struggles to find top-notch on-air talent the past few years.

Unfailingly referred to by colleagues as one of the nicest and hardest-working members of the Boston media, Tappen made herself into a trustworthy, knowledgeable hockey host. But it wasn’t a natural gig for her; she admitted during a fill-in hosting stint on WEEI’s “Dennis & Callahan’’ last week that she didn’t know much about hockey when she got the job at NESN.

No truth, by the way, to the rumors that it was the first time in the history of sports radio that a host admitted he or she didn’t know something.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.