Winter Classic Ratings Positive for NBC
Thirty-six hours before the 2011 NHL Winter Classic, the league was still promoting an event that would begin at 1 p.m. Eastern Saturday.
Then on Friday afternoon, the league cited a consistently ominous weather forecast in moving the game back seven hours and playing at night. Despite that late-notice change, viewers were able to find the game on NBC.
Preliminary ratings are out for Saturday night's Winter Classic, and NBC won the night among viewers aged 18-49. The game averaged 4.65 million viewers, placing NBC third overall in average viewers among the broadcast networks.
However, this is still going to be considered a win for NBC and the NHL.
Despite insanely short notice, the game didn't embarrass itself in the overall numbers. Instead, it did very well for itself.
What does it all mean?
Well, it seems likely at this point that the NHL Winter Classic is going to become a prime-time event. Even if you take the TV ratings out of the question, it's hard to argue with the visual beauty of outdoor hockey at night. The atmosphere at Heinz Field was terrific, and a later start would only increase the chances that the league will be met with weather favorable for outdoor hockey.
We don't know for sure what the NHL will do, but as long as networks are amenable to the change, night-time Winter Classics seem to be a foregone conclusion going forward.