I was optimistic about the NHL's ratings chances for opening weekend. I assumed there would be a ton of early curiosity, combined with big markets driving the bus with huge local numbers. I'll admit, however, that I didn't think Saturday's regional coverage or Sunday's return of Game of the Week would do as well, especially the single-game Flyers-Sabres telecast NBC showed Sunday.
Buffalo's 5-2 victory over Philadelphia drew a surprisingly stout 1.4 overnight rating, up 27 percent over last year's comparable Washington-Pittsburgh broadcast. Excluding the Winter Classic, it was the best rating ever for a single game broadcast by NBC (i.e. not regional coverage) since they returned as the NHL's broadcast rights holder in 2006. It was also the best overnight rating for a Sunday NHL telecast since Mar. 26, 2000, when ABC showed regional coverage of Penguins-Flyers, Rangers-Red Wings and Avalanche-Stars (1.5 overnight).
Predictably, the local numbers were impressive. Buffalo drew a typically obscene 22.3 rating, the best ever for NBC in the market during the regular season, excluding the Winter Classic. Philadelphia also picked up a stout 5.6. That was down from the 7.8 on Saturday against the Penguins, but still pretty impressive. Overall, the NHL has much with which to be pleased from it's opening weekend. We'll see how numbers hold up the rest of the way, but the league and its television partners clearly executed a successful return from the lockout.
NHL on NBC overnights for the 2013 season
Jan. 19 - Regional Coverage (Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia OR Chicago vs. Los Angeles): 2.0
Jan. 20 - Philadelphia vs. Buffalo: 1.4
Top overnights for regular season games on NBC
1. Detroit vs. Chicago (1/1/09): 2.9
2. Washington vs. Pittsburgh (1/1/11): 2.8
t3. Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo (1/1/08): 2.6
t3. Philadelphia vs. Boston (1/1/10): 2.6
5. NY Rangers vs. Philadelphia (1/1/12): 2.4
6. Regional Coverage (PIT/PHI, CHI/LA on 1/19/13): 2.0
7. Regional Coverage (NYR/DET, COL/PHI, DAL/BOS on 1/14/06): 1.5
t8. Regional Coverage (SJ/DET, PIT/BUF, STL/CHI on 2/19/12): 1.4
t8. Philadelphia vs. Buffalo (1/20/12): 1.4