The return of retired National Hockey League hall of famer Mario Lemieux to the Pittsburgh Penguins has jump-started the otherwise sluggish ratings for ESPN's coverage.
Lemieux, who is part owner of the team, returned to the ice Dec. 27 after a layoff of more than three years. Prior to his return, ESPN had averaged a 0.51 rating after nine telecasts-slightly below last year's numbers.
In the two games since Lemieux's comeback, the network has seen an 86 percent increase in performance, averaging a 0.95 rating.
Ratings for the important male 18-34 demographic have also increased 160 percent since Lemieux's return, said network officials.
Overall, the network is averaging a 0.58 rating, up 5 percent compared to a 0.55 rating last year. The male 18-34 demographic is up 46 percent over last year.
"The [Lemieux] impact has been rather significant and has helped to jolt the ratings upward," network vice president of research and sales development Artie Bulgrin said. "Overall, we're seeing the young male viewer tuning in to the NHL and sports more frequently."
Meanwhile, executives at Turner Sports must be hoping team president Michael Jordan will don a Washington Wizards uniform to help spur ratings for the network's National Basketball Association coverage.
Through Jan. 14, Turner's TBS Superstation and Turner Network Television are averaging a combined 1.2 rating for their NBA coverage, down from a 1.4 rating during the same period last year.
A Turner spokesman said the company expects to see improved ratings after absorbing a major hit early in the season due to the Presidential election controversy.