The NHL has made consistent effort to turn their opening night into a somewhat small-scale edition of what the NFL does. With events such as Kings of Leon playing a pregame concert in Montreal, and the banner-raising in Chicago, they have certainly succeeded in those efforts. Perhaps, then, it is a bonus that the league's opening night has progressively turned into a larger and larger ratings draw.
NBCSN's first telecast of the season, a high-scoring showdown between the champion Chicago Blackhawks and Alexander Ovechkin's Washington Capitals, drew an 0.70 rating and 935,000 viewers via Son of the Bronx. The rating was a record for NBCSN's opening night telecasts (NBC televised the opening game in the truncated 2012-13 season) and the viewership figures made it the second-most watched NHL regular season game in network history.
In the local markets, Chicago naturally dominated, with a 7.1 rating. According to NBC, that's the highest-rated regular season game ever on NBCSN. In Washington, the game hit a respectable 2.2, though it did get beaten by the competing NL Wild Card Game (3.0).
Viewership for NHL Opening Night on cable since 2003:
2006 (VERSUS): Dallas vs. Colorado: 301,000
2007 (VERSUS): Dallas vs. Colorado: 289,000
2008 (VERSUS): Boston vs. Colorado: 361,000
2009 (VERSUS): San Jose vs. Colorado: 330,000
2010 (VERSUS): Chicago vs. Colorado: 430,000
2011 (VERSUS): Pittsburgh vs. Vancouver: 342,000
5 most watched NHL regular season games on NBCSN*
1. Boston vs. NY Rangers (1/23/13): 956,000
2. Washington vs. Chicago (10/1/13): 935,000
3. Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh (2/20/13): 901,000
4. Boston vs. Philadelphia (10/6/11): 874,000
5. Buffalo vs. Boston (4/17/13): 847,000
*-includes VERSUS and OLN
I'm a big hockey fan, but I want to watch MY team. I'm not a big fan of watching two teams I don't care about unless it's a playoff game.
It's encouraging for the league. NBCSN does a nice job producing the games and you can tell they value the property unlike ESPN. NBC has found a couple of sports the NHL and the EPL with a die hard fan base and are authentic when showing the games. It gives hope that there will be competition for ESPN yet.