SBD/January 4, 2011/Media

NHL May Struggle To Match Record Winter Classic Rating In '12

Winter Classic Saw Ratings Bump In Primetime, But Numbers Could Drop In '12 Against NFL

The NHL "will plot to build on its best-ever" Winter Classic rating, a 2.3 for Saturday's Capitals-Penguins game at Heinz Field, but it "may not be easy," according to Stu Hackel of The opening faceoff was moved to 8:00pm ET due to rain, and there "almost certainly would have been bigger numbers had the game gone off in the afternoon this year," because "all the promotion was geared" to a 1:00pm start. Going forward, there "have already been suggestions that the NHL move this game to prime time and make it the only NHL match that day," but the league "will likely want to avoid the sort of prime time competition that it had this year" with ESPN's coverage of the Fiesta Bowl. There is "less competition in the early afternoon." In addition, Jan. 1 falls on a Sunday next year, and "assuming it doesn't opt for a shift to Dec. 31, the NHL is going to be up against the NFL no matter what time the game starts." It also "should not be forgotten that the rating benefited immeasurably" from HBO's "24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic," and the game "probably won't have that sort of boost next year" (, 1/3). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir reports the NHL "would not say if future Winter Classics would be held in prime time." That discussion "will be a part of talks with NBC, whose NHL contract expires after this season." The league also is "in an exclusive negotiating period with Versus about renewing its expiring deal" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/4).

ON THE HOME FRONT: In DC, Dan Steinberg reported Capitals-Penguins earned a 7.6 local rating in the DC market, though he would have "guessed that number would have been higher." The game "got the best ratings" in Pittsburgh, posting a 32.0 local rating in that market. The Winter Classic "earned its third-highest ratings" in Baltimore, with a 6.6 local rating (, 1/3).

St. Louis

LEAVING SOMETHING ON THE TABLE? MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Mike Reynolds noted the 4.5 million viewers for the Winter Classic marks the largest audience for a regular-season NHL game since '75, but he wrote there were "enough factors in its favor that should have helped the game score more with the Nielsens." Those include HBO's "brilliant promo" in the form of the "24/7" series, the "game's two biggest stars ... going head-to-head" and the fact it aired against "only one college football game, the lackluster BCS Fiesta Bowl." Also, most sports fans "should have been aware that the game had the potential to skate into primetime because of the forecast calling for substantial rain" at its scheduled 1:00pm start. Reynolds: "Not to downplay all those positives and the 4.5 million who watched ... but it felt like the gestalt of the above-mentioned factors should have pushed the 2011 Winter Classic's Nielsens higher" (, 1/3).

LIGHTS, CAMERAS, ACTION: YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski wrote the "universal gripe" over NBC's coverage of this year's Winter Classic "centered around the creative camerawork from NBC; in the sense that most readers found 'creative' synonymous with 'appalling.'" Wyshynski described the different looks from the cameras and wrote, "I'd give the camerawork a mild FAIL because of the ill-timing of its usage but would give the overall coverage a PASS because they covered the hell out of that game." He added, "I'm excited and hopeful when I see something like CableCam. ... I give NBC credit for taking a made-for-TV event and making it their own" (, 1/3).

Carlson Believes Presence Of HBO
Around Team Was Great For Hockey
MORE OF THE SAME? The CP's Chris Johnston wrote based "on the success of HBO's '24/7' series, it's reasonable to expect that other NHL teams will soon open their doors for similar projects." Capitals D John Carlson: "It was kind of fun at times and kind of annoying at other times. I think it's a great thing for hockey and I think it's a great thing for our team. They were great guys and we actually did have a lot of fun with them." Capitals C Brooks Laich: "I think our guys have had a good time with it and I hope it's brought some good exposure to our players and our sport. Once it's done, it will be kind of nice to not have camera crews in every meeting and right in your face when you are getting dressed and (having) conversations" (CP, 1/2). Penguins D Brooks Orpik: "I think everybody had fun with (the TV show and outdoors game). But from what I've heard, everyone was ready to move on and get it over with." Penguins LW Mike Rupp: "It was fun. I would love to do it again, from the Classic to the television cameras from HBO. But at the same time, it's a bit of a relief that they're gone, because we can do the thing that we're used to doing all the time. We don't have to worry about guys (wearing a microphone) for games. In the back of your mind, it's always there: 'OK, something might be on me right now.' I think it's going to be a bit of a relief" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 1/4).

FITTING FINALE: In DC, Tracee Hamilton writes Saturday's Winter Classic "provided a perfect exclamation point to HBO's storytelling arc." When filming began on the series, the Capitals "were embarking on their longest losing streak in years, while the Penguins were in the midst of an impressive winning streak." By the third episode, the Caps "were coming out of their funk, the Penguins' streak had ended and the scales were evening a bit." Penguins C Sidney Crosby was "hot on the ice and the perfect all-Canadian boy off it," and Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin was "none of those things." Hamilton: "I'm sure producers hoped those two would have epic performances Saturday night, so the finale would be a Crosby-vs.-Ovechkin battle. That's where the players went off script; neither superstar scored Saturday night. But HBO being HBO, it had an alternate ending ready: redemption. There the Capitals delivered, and the filmmakers had to have been pleased, especially after being at least partly blamed for the team's slump by worried fans" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/4).

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