SBD/Issue 76/Sports Media

NBC Sees Drop In Winter Classic Ratings Amid Positive Reviews

NBC earned a 2.6 overnight Nielsen rating for the Flyers-Bruins Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Friday, down 10.3% from a 2.9 for the Red Wings-Blackhawks matchup last year, and even with the inaugural Penguins-Sabres Winter Classic in '08. The 2.6 overnight still marks the second-best NHL regular-season rating since '96 (THE DAILY).

Coverage Of Friday's Winter Classic Called NBC's
"Best Effort Yet In The Outdoor Game's Three Years"
KEEPS GETTING BETTER: In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones wrote the Winter Classic has "become one of the year's most entertaining sporting events, and NBC's coverage keeps getting better." The coverage of Friday's game was NBC's "best effort yet in the outdoor game's three years." The net made the event "truly special," and NBC and the NHL "celebrated the sport, the teams involved and host city Boston" (TAMPABAY.com, 1/3). In Boston, Chad Finn wrote NBC's montage of Bobby Orr highlights before the Hockey HOFer's interview with Mike Milbury was "great, timeless stuff, and better programming than most of what NBC offers in its primetime lineup" (BOSTON.com, 1/1). The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin wrote the Winter Classic is "fast becoming a benchmark for televised sports." The annual event is "hockey eye candy, the one NHL game to watch if you're watching one all year" (GLOBESPORTS.com, 1/3). In Boston, Steve Buckley wrote Mike Emrick, who called the game for NBC, is the "best announcer in hockey history" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/2).

RECORD-SETTING PERFORMANCE: NHL COO John Collins said the Winter Classic across several business metrics “was the best yet.” Collins: “The Bruins’ overtime win in an unforgettable setting at Fenway Park reminded us why in three short years, the Winter Classic has become one of the most special events on the national sports calendar and the newest New Year’s Day sports tradition. In the face of high expectations, we far outdistanced the previous records for merchandise sales and NHL.com traffic.” He added, “This year’s game once again demonstrated that the NHL Winter Classic has transformed the way sports fans think about the NHL experience. By providing fans a national event to rally around, we can deliver an impressive national television audience for a regular-season game. When the final numbers are in, NBC’s broadcast will most likely be one of the most watched regular-season games in the U.S. in the past 35 years. That is impressive considering the stiff competition we faced” (THE DAILY).

CAN YOU FEEL THE LOVE TONIGHT? CBC "Hockey Night In Canada" Exec Producer Sherali Najak said that a Winter Classic in Canada would make the event "even better for him and the CBC." Najak: "That would make a huge difference for us. The buzz on Canadian soil is always more special for Canadian fans." In Toronto, Chris Zelkovich noted while the annual game has "become a big event" for the NHL and NBC, the CBC's coverage of the '09 Red Wings-Blackhawks Winter Classic from Wrigley Field drew only 938,000 viewers, "about 300,000 lower than the average Saturday night game." That is "what no doubt rankles" the CBC -- the net "pays millions in rights fees while NBC has a nothing-up-front profit-sharing deal with the NHL." However, the CBC "gets an all-American outdoor game that doesn't drive ratings and might even cost it half a million viewers" (TORONTO STAR, 1/1). The CBC's Ron MacLean said the Winter Classic is a "made-for-television event -- appointment television." MacLean: "They're saying at the league, 'This is more interesting to us than the Stanley Cup playoffs.' The networks are all more excited about this" ("HNIC," CBC, 1/2).

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