Reynolds Rap

NHL Winter Classic: Ice Half-Frozen With The Nielsens

1/03/2011 4:55 PM

Consider NBC’s ratings for the 2011 NHL Winter Classic from the ice half-frozen, or half-slushy because of the rain in the third-period perspective.

The Washington Capitals’ 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Stadium in the Steel City generated a 2.3 national rating, translating into 4.5 million viewers on New Year’s night, the most for an NHL regular-season game since 1975, according to NBC.

The audience for the NHL ‘s fourth Winter Classic marked a 22% gain from the 3.7 million that watched the 2010 contest between the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins from Fenway Park, and was up 2% from the 2009 game featuring the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks from Wrigley Field. Saturday night’s game was also 18% ahead of the inaugural Winter Classic — the only one with snow, thus far — that pitted the Penguins at the Buffalo Sabres in Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the NFL Buffalo Bills, on the first day of 2008.

Still, there were enough factors in its favor that should have helped the game score more with the Nielsens.

What with HBO’s brilliant promo in the form of its 24/7 reality franchise, Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic

What with arguably the game’s two biggest stars, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin going head-to-head…
Not to mention that most sports fans should have been aware that the game had the potential to skate into primetime because of the forecast calling for substantial rain and temps in the 50s for its original face-off…

Or that primetime was the right time to face only one college football game, the lackluster BCS Fiesta Bowl match-up of Oklahoma-UConn (which nonetheless drew 10.8 million watchers on ESPN), as opposed to four — Mississippi State-Michigan, Florida-Penn State, Alabama-Michigan State and Northwestern-Texas Tech — in its original 1 p.m. New Year’s Day time slot…

What with the original afternoon window serving as a promo with encores of Winter Classics past…

NHL and/or NBC officials, conversely, point to the 68,000-seat sellout at Heinz; the economic impact on Pittsburgh; the 32.0 rating/46 share in the Pittsburgh DMA; that the game’s original window was moved on short notice; to the eyeball competition that Pens-Caps wound up facing against six other NHL games that night, four featuring all U.S. matchups (two were Canadian clashes); that the telecast gave NBC the night among Madison Avenue-coveted adults 18 to 49 with a 1.8 rating; and again, that the contest was the NHL’s most-viewed regular-season game in some 35 years.

Again, not to downplay all those positives and the 4.5 million who watched, including yours truly, but it felt like the gestalt of the above-mentioned factors should have pushed the 2011 Winter Classic’s Nielsens higher…