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Volume 25 No. 234
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Blackhawks-Capitals NHL Winter Classic Draws Event's Lowest Audience Since Start In '08

The Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic finished with 3.47 million viewers for the Capitals’ 3-2 win over the Blackhawks on New Year’s Day, a record-low audience for the event that began in ’08. The event was down 21% from 4.4 million viewers last year, which featured a record Winter Classic crowd at Michigan Stadium for Maple Leafs-Red Wings, as well as a shootout to finish the game. Despite the year-over-year drop and record-low audience, the Winter Classic ranks as the seventh-best NHL regular-season audience on record (dating back to '87). Chicago led all markets with an 11.4 local rating, while host market DC ranked No. 3 with a 5.7 local rating. Buffalo ranked No. 2 with a 6.4 rating (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor). CBSSPORTS.com's Chris Peters wrote concerns that the '15 Winter Classic "would not perform well" on TV relative to previous installments of the event due to "the relative lack of buzz this year" were confirmed (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/2).  In Boston, Fluto Shinzawa wrote the viewership decrease "underscores that the outdoor game ... isn’t going to guarantee TV success with each season." Assuming the Bruins host the '16 Winter Classic, it "will require a strong opponent" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/4). SI.com's Richard Deitsch wrote one thing that "seems clear is that the teams really matter if the arena isn’t iconic." Deitsch: "The NHL should really think about using Montreal in the future" (SI.com, 1/4).

NHL WINTER CLASSIC AUDIENCE TREND ON NBC
YEAR
MATCHUP VENUE
START(ET)
RATING
VIEWERS (000)
'15
Blackhawks-Capitals Nationals Park
1:00pm
1.9
3,472
'14
Maple Leafs-Red Wings Michigan Stadium
1:00pm
2.5
4,404
'13
---------- No game due to lockout ----------
'12
Rangers-Flyers Citizens Bank Park
1:00pm
2.1
3,733
'11
Capitals-Penguins Heinz Field
8:00pm
2.3
4,525
'10
Flyers-Bruins Fenway Park
1:00pm
2.1
3,684
'09
Red Wings-Blackhawks Wrigley Field
1:00pm
2.5
4,401
'08
Penguins-Sabres Ralph Wilson Stadium
1:00pm
2.2
3,751
           

LET'S GET DIGITAL: USA TODAY's Hemal Jhaveri writes even with "lukewarm numbers" for the Winter Classic, some measures "indicate the NHL's appeal is at an all-time high." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that part of that success "is attributable to the league's embrace of digital and social media." Bettman: "Historically, we were a league that was underserved by traditional media. So the ability to use digital platforms and connect with our fans more than ever ... has been vitally important to us." Jhaveri notes NHL-branded accounts "have 3 million followers on Twitter, 3.7 million fans on Facebook and another 753,000 followers on Instagram." That is "not counting the thousands of others who follow individual team accounts." That footprint puts NHL content "in the hands of millions of people on a near-constant basis." Tweets, Facebook posts, Instagrams and Snapchats "serve as an instant link between fans and teams." Bettman: "We're growing season by season with record engagement, record attendance, record revenue. We think the digital space is responsible for that" (USA TODAY, 1/5).