Can’t get a ticket? No worries. There’s always the comfort of watching on the big screen TV. While the NHL will never attract the oversized ratings of the NFL or other marquee sports, the numbers from the first few days of action show fans will plop down on the sofa and watch on high definition just as much as from high in the upper deck.
NBC’s broadcast Saturday earned the league’s most-watched game for a non-Winter Classic in 14 years. It was regional coverage of the Chicago Blackhawks defeating the Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings, 5-2, and Pittsburgh’s 3-1 victory over Philadelphia. All told, 2.77 million viewers tuned in.
It was the most-watched regular-season coverage on NBC since the network again began broadcasting the NHL in 2006, and the highest since Fox drew 3.09 million viewers for a three-game regional slate in April 1999.
NBC’s coverage peaked at 3.82 million viewers in the final minutes of the broadcast when most viewers were watching the Penguins lead the Flyers, 2-1.
Eight markets set local ratings records or milestones for regular-season coverage — not counting Winter Classics — that aired either on NBC or NBC Sports Network from Saturday to Tuesday.
“It’s good to talk about something else besides the lockout and actually talk about the game,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “It’s obviously a pretty good feeling out there having the fans. They are unbelievable.”
Maybe it helped the league said it was sorry: The NHL bought full-page ads in about 40 newspapers across the United State and Canada thanking fans for their patience and apologizing for the lost games. The ad said the league was “committed to earning back your trust and support” with “hard work and unwavering dedication.”
The abbreviated 48-game season where games matter more, at least in perception, than the usual October, November snoozers has helped fuel interest. So has opening over a slow portion of the sports calendar. Outside of the scandals that have piled up at a daily clip, there’s not much to grab the average viewer outside of the Super Bowl. March Madness and baseball could cut into the viewing audience, but the Stanley Cup chase will be full blast by then.