Outdoor hockey games are the best thing to happen to the NHL in a long time. You may think differently, but the ratings and attendance numbers don’t lie.
Saturday’s Stadium Series game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins drew the highest overnight rating for a non-Winter Classic regular season hockey game in NBC’s history with a 2.1 rating. The same game drew a 14.9 rating in the Chicago market and a 13.3 rating in the Pittsburgh market. More fans (62,921) came to the ‘Hawks-Pens game than attended last year’s Bears-Packers game (62,708).
That was shocking, even to a die-hard Blackhawks fan like myself. The good news doesn’t stop there, though. Chicago’s 14.9 rating even beat the ‘Hawks 2011 Winter Classic game against the rival Detroit Red Wings. The 2011 Winter Classic garnered an 11.8 rating in Chicago.
But outdoor hockey TV rating success hasn’t just been limited to Chicago. The NHL is seeing success in every outdoor game.
The January 26th Stadium Series game between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils averaged 2.091 million viewers, giving it – at the time – the record for most watched, non-Winter Classic regular season hockey game on NBC.
The January 25th Stadium Series between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks drew a local rating of 2.4, which is the highest hockey TV rating for that market.
The 2014 Winter Classic saw over 100,000 fans pack in Michigan Stadium to see the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Red Wings. The game also tied the network’s record for an outdoor hockey game with a 2.9 national rating.
It’s abundantly clear outdoor hockey, no matter where it’s played, is having no problem bringing fans into stadiums or getting them to watch the game in their homes. We know the NHL isn’t the greatest organization when it comes to the business side of sports (two lockouts in a decade), but they league has found a winner in featuring a handful of outdoor hockey games each season. The NHL shouldn’t be stupid and ruin such an increasingly popular feature now.
Some fans may complain playing a few outdoor games a season ruins the novelty of it, but it’s too early to know if that’s true. Besides, it’s hard not to love outdoor hockey in the winter, especially when it snows during the game.
The snow and cold brings back memories of getting together with your friends on the weekends and playing backyard ice or street hockey. That’s why, as long as the NHL continues its outdoor hockey games, I’ll be watching.