Get used to it, everybody. Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin sells.
Saturday's Winter Classic, which feature the two players and their teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, was the highest-rated regular season hockey game since the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers met in April 1975.
From an NBC press release:
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).
The game did a whopping 32.0 rating in the Pittsburgh market, according to NBC, as well as a 7.6 in the Washington market. Baltimore was a close third, coming in with a 6.6 rating.
This is all obviously very good for the Winter Classic and the NHL in general. The numbers aren't anything compared to football, but there's been a general upward trend since the lockout. Now, as the NHL revs up for negotiations on a new television rights deal in the United States, they have leverage. That's huge for the league.