Sun Jan 02 01:11pm EST
According to Sports Media Watch, the 2011 NHL Winter Classic delivered a ratings win for NBC in the coveted adults 18-49 demographic for the Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins in the soggy Steel City, which was rescheduled from the afternoon to 8 p.m. due to weather conditions.
NBC averaged a 1.8 rating among adults 18-49 and 4.56 million viewers in primetime Saturday night (8-11 PM), according to preliminary fast-affiliate data. The network won the night among the Big Four broadcast networks in the demo, edging second-place FOX (1.6). The network finished third for the night in viewership, behind CBS (6.14 mil), and FOX (4.77 mil).
Steve Lepore of Puck The Media tweets that "the switch to primetime was completely unpromoted, and more people found it than any game since '96."
In one way, the NHL caught a break with the weather delay, avoiding bowl games featuring Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State that could have siphoned viewers from traditional hockey ratings strongholds. The main college bowl competition in the evening was the BCS Fiesta Bowl on ESPN, which featured a blowout win for Oklahoma over UConn. Can't wait to see the city-by-city breakdown, including the local numbers from D.C.
TV By The Numbers reports another important caveat: "Due to the nature of live sports programming the ratings for NBC (NHL Hockey) are approximate and subject to more than the typical adjustments in the final numbers."
In their estimation, that means "look for the hockey numbers to go up in the finals once time zone adjustments for Mountain and Pacific time are made."
No matter the final numbers, NBC and the NHL have to be happy with "Winter Classic wins the night" headlines on Sunday afternoon. Sidney Crosby(notes) vs. Alex Ovechkin(notes) paid off, even if the weather didn't cooperate.
Thus begins the prime time Winter Classic as the norm?
UPDATE: Via Puck The Media, new ratings info from the NHL, incuding market-by-market breakdowns, after the jump.
NEW YORK - Jan. 2, 2011 - The 2011 NHL Winter Classic, broadcast on New Year's Day by NBC Sports in primetime due to a weather delay, was the most-watched Winter Classic ever, up 22 percent vs. last year's game and the most-watched NHL regular-season game in 36 years, according to fast national data provided by Nielsen Media Research. In four years the NHL Winter Classic, which Newsday called "a holiday tradition" and the New York Times said "has stolen New Year's Day," has averaged 4.1 million viewers on NBC. Saturday's game was seen by 4.5 million viewers, up 22 percent vs. last year (3.7 million), and earned a 2.3 national rating and 4 share (8-11 p.m. ET), up 10 percent vs. last year (2.1/4, 1-4 p.m. ET).
Despite changing the start time from 1 p.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET due to weather, which saw the game to compete against other NHL games involving eight U.S. markets, 4.5 million viewers watched the Capitals defeat the Penguins, 3-1, at Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, surpassing the 4.4 million who watched the 2009 Winter Classic that saw the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings defeat the Chicago Blackhawks, 6-4, at iconic Wrigley Field as the most-watched NHL regular-season game since Feb. 23, 1975 (5.4 million, Philadelphia-New York Rangers on NBC). The 2011 Classic was also up 22 percent vs. last year's overtime game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins from iconic Fenway Park (3.7 million).
MOST-WATCHED NHL REGULAR-SEASON GAMES SINCE 1975
4.5 million Jan. 1, 2011 NBC Capitals-Penguins
4.4 million Jan. 1, 2009 NBC Red Wings-Blackhawks
3.8 million Jan. 27, 1996 FOX Six-game regional coverage
3.8 million Jan. 1, 2008 NBC Penguins-Sabres
3.7 million Jan. 1, 2010 NBC Flyers-Bruins
The rating peaked at a 2.4/4 in both the 8-8:30 p.m. ET and 8:30-9 p.m. ET half hours.
Pittsburgh led all markets with a 32.0 rating, which is up 81 percent from the 17.7 rating the market posted for the inaugural Winter Classic (2008), in which the Penguins competed against the Sabres in Buffalo in snow globe-like conditions with the winning goal provided by Sidney Crosby in a shootout.
Following are the Top 10 metered markets for the 2010 Winter Classic:
1. Pittsburgh, 32.0/46
2. Washington D.C., 7.6/13
3. Baltimore, 6.6/11
4. Buffalo, 5.3/8
T5. St. Louis, 4.3/7
T5. Denver, 4.3/7
7. Boston, 4.0/7
8. Richmond, 3.8/6
9. Philadelphia, 3.5/6
10. Columbus, 3.4/6