The question over whether hockey fans would return to watch the NHL after yet another lockout has been answered. Yes, the fans have returned. They even brought some of their friends with them.
With the first couple of days of the NHL regular season in the books, NBC is already reporting some rather impressive ratings.
NBC's NHL coverage yesterday scores 2.0 overnight rating, best for non-Winter Classic regular-season game in decade (2002-ABC) #hockeyisback— NBCSportsPR (@NBCSportsPR) January 20, 2013
Even if you were anticipating that hockey fans would come back to the game in waves, that number NBC reported in the tweet above is rather impressive. It's as if the delayed start to the season only built anticipation rather than squashing it.
The good news doesn't end there.
Pittsburgh (19.4), Philadelphia (7.8) & Chicago (6.6) local ratings r best-ever for non-WC reg-season gms on NBC. LA (1.5) is best since '07— NBCSportsPR (@NBCSportsPR) January 20, 2013
It's not too surprising that Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Chicago recorded big numbers but it is news that fans from Los Angeles aren't going through their own version of a championship slump. You'd expect a big number in LA the day the team raises its banner celebrating the Cup, but you can never be too sure considering the same market tuned their team out prior to their march through the playoffs.
Overall, the early numbers are strong. NBC should be pretty happy considering their ratings over on NBC Sports Network were dismal as recently as a few weeks ago. Still, it's important to remember that it's early. Very early. Big numbers for home openers are one thing. Sustaining those big numbers over the course of a season, even one that's only 48 games, is another.
If I had to bet, I'd fully anticipate the NHL to hold its own in terms of ratings this season. Even the most fickle of fans are returning to the sport they love, like a junky in search of their next fix. Despite the lockout, the NHL is riding an enormous wave of momentum. With a shortened schedule, there seems to be increased demand for games in the early going. The same delay that irritated fans also created a built-up feeling of jubilation when hockey finally returned.
The NHL is going to be just fine. In fact, it might even continue the ratings growth it's seen over the past few seasons in spite of all the doom and gloom of the lockout.