(UPDATE: The final ratings actually make this the least-watched Winter Classic yet. Sigh.)
There was some good news for the NHL, at least on a surface level, from the 2017 Winter Classic at Busch Stadium.
The St. Louis Blues’ 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks delivered a 1.88 overnight rating on NBC, which was up four percent over the 2016 Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens.
The 15.5 rating in St. Louis made it NBC’s highest-rated regular-season Blues game in the market, although we can’t imagine the bar was set that high. It also delivered a 23-percent higher rating in Chicago than the Blackhawks’ Stadium Series game against the Minnesota Wild because Chicago hates St. Louis more than the Twin Cities.
Hey, great news, right? Well, except for the fact that the 2016 Habs/Bruins Winter Classic drew a 1.6 rating, – making the 2016 Classic the lowest rated in the series. It was down 16 percent in ratings from the 2015 Winter Classic between the Blackhawks and Washington Capitals at Nationals Park.
Now, there are plenty of reasons why the Gillette Stadium Classic was a bust, starting with the fact that NBC gets no “hometown” ratings benefit from a Canadian team. But for the 2017 Classic in St. Louis to move the needle just four percent higher, featuring a storied rivalry between two solid hockey markets, is a little disappointing.
But at least it’s not trending downward anymore, even if the numbers fell short of the 2015 Classic featuring the Blackhawks (2.3 overnight).
The 2017 Winter Classic didn’t have the benefit of a captive New Year’s Day audience, airing on a Jan. 2 afternoon. (Ratings for the Jan. 1 Centennial Classic game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings haven’t been released yet.)
NBC Sports President Jon Miller said the net was completely supportive of the NHL’s idea of holding two outdoor games during the New Year’s weekend when it was first discussed. Miller said, “We still wanted to protect the Winter Classic — and it’s not going to be a regular occurrence that you’ll have two games — but it’s just because New Year’s Day happened on a Sunday this year.”
Well, that and the NHL needed to appease the Leafs, who weren’t getting the Winter Classic but didn’t want a Heritage Classic because they wanted a New Year’s Day game. We digress:
Yesterday’s game in St. Louis avoided a potential rain delay, but Miller acknowledged the game could have been moved to NBCSN if it had been pushed into primetime. NBC last night premiered the Arnold Schwarzenegger-led “Celebrity Apprentice” and aired a new episode of the LeBron James-produced game show “The Wall.” The Winter Classic would have had to end before 7:00pm CT in order for NBC to keep the game on its broadcast network. “NBC Sports is just one part of a big company, and there’s other issues. … We want to try to protect primetime.”
Again, the ratings are what they are for the Winter Classic. A compelling matchup between rivals helps. Great aesthetics, which the weather didn’t produce in St. Louis, helps. An interesting venue helps too. (Remember when the NHL would pick Winter Classics based on that?)
But overall, the outdoor games are about the on-site experience for the fans, and the amount of gate and merchandise revenue they generate. And in St. Louis, there were expectations that the haul from memorabilia sales was going to challenge the Winter Classic’s most prosperous years.
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