I was in Pittsburgh at the NHL Draft last year, and I got to see first hand how much the town loved their hockey team. Cab drivers wanted to talk about Jordan Staal's trade value, bars had classic merchandise I didn't even know existed, and the first night of the draft was packed to the gills at Consol Energy Center.
What I'm about to show you, however, may be one step beyond passion and into insanity. It's one of the reasons I've predicted potentially huge numbers for Saturday's NBC broadcast to people who ask me how the league might come out of this at the start gate. Rob Rossi brings us this evidence:
Local NBC affiliates can probably count on strong ratings for the NHL opener at 3 p.m. Saturday between the Penguins and Flyers at Philadelphia. The Penguins‘ Black & Gold scrimmage registered a 6.67 Nielsen rating for Root Sports Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. That bested all prime-time programming on any network or cable station. About 210,000 regional viewers watched the scrimmage, Nielsen reported. "Amazing fans," Root Sports Pittsburgh general manager Shawn McClintock said, noting the Penguins are coming off a 2011-12 season during which their local ratings were highest for any NHL or NBA team.
210,000 people. For a scrimmage. That's insanity. I'd wager about 60 percent of professional sports franchises (aside from football) don't draw 200,000 people for most regular season games.
The Penguins debut on Saturday against their biggest rival (Philadelphia) in a game being shown in half the country (Kings-Blackhawks in the other half). The NHL could have great reason to be awful pleased come the Monday ratings if they get half that much fervor in Philadelphia, Chicago or Los Angeles.