The biggest crowd to watch a hockey game gathered at the Big House on New Year’s Day, while those in their living rooms in North America combined to make it the largest audience ever for the National Hockey League's Winter Classic.
According to the league, an average of 8.2 million viewers in the U.S. and Canada saw the Toronto Maple Leafs defeat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout on Jan. 1 under snowy skies at Michigan Stadium before 105,491 fans.
NBC garnered a 2.5 household rating and 4.404 million watchers, according to Nielsen data.
The telecast tied the 2009 NHL Winter Classic, which was played at Chicago’s Wrigley Field between the then-defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings and host Chicago Blackhawks, as the highest-rated NHL regular-season game since 1975.
The Toronto-Detroit matchup ranked as the second-most watched NHL regular-season game in 39 years, behind only the 2011 NHL Winter Classic, which drew 4.53 million, as that telecast was moved into primetime due to a weather delay from Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, where the Penguins hosted the Washington Capitals.
“Today is yet another milestone in the NHL Winter Classic’s short, but illustrious history. It’s a thrill every year when the viewership for this event continues to validate the vision both NBC Sports and the NHL had when we created it,” said Jon Miller, president of programming, NBC Sports, and one of the co-creators of the event. “We could not be more complimentary of the NHL’s first-class efforts in hosting the game, and we could not be more proud of our production team, which presented an unparalleled broadcast that captured the spirit of the event.”
North of the border, the CBC, with a Canadian team appearing in the Winter Classic for the first time, averaged 3.57 million viewers, the largest audience in that nation for an NHL non-playoff game. For its part, French-language broadcaster RDS averaged 260,000 watchers.