Photo: Screengrab NBC
The NHL moved its annual outdoor Winter Classic from a 1 p.m. start to an 8 p.m. start due to weather concerns in Pittsburgh yesterday, and the early returns suggest the league found accidental success.The players loved competing under the lights, fans were clearly engaged, and Caps owner 10 Leonsis compared the scene to another popular night time sporting event.
“It felt big time, right? It felt like a NFL Monday Night playoff game or something like that,” Leonsis told Sporting News. “It had that kind of event feel … for us to own New Year’s Day is really an accomplishment for the league.”
Own New Year’s Day, the NHL did.
Broadcasting the game, NBC averaged a 1.8 rating among the coveted 18-49 demographic – besting CBS, FOX, and ABC – and 4.56 million viewers overall, according to fast-affiliate data from Sports Media Watch. Those numbers are subject to change, but will probably increase once the final data is collected.
The primetime start was such a success, that the league has to be considering it for future incarnations of the Winter Classic.
College football inevitably weighs on the NHL’s scheduling decision as it tries to steal Bowl Season thunder. Hockey is hopeless against the Rose Bowl, which always starts at 5 p.m, but it can compete with the lesser bowls.
This year, the primetime Fiesta Bowl presented a dull matchup in UConn vs. Oklahoma whose outcome was decided early. That worked to the Winter Classic’s advantage. Meanwhile, the afternoon games – which were supposed to battle the NHL for ratings – featured big schools with big followings, including Florida, Alabama, Penn State, and Michigan.
The problem is, the NHL has no idea how the Bowl matchups will shake out when it schedules Winter Classics each spring. This year, though, primetime clearly provided a window for the NHL to captivate sports fans.
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