Even strong numbers from Chicago couldn’t prevent the Winter Classic delivering its lowest national rating Thursday.
The Blackhawks-Washington game at Nationals Park did a 2.3 overnight rating of major markets on NBC; 1 national ratings point is worth more than 1 million homes. The previous low was a 2.4 for the 2012 Winter Classic featuring the Rangers at Philadelphia in Citizens Bank Park. Last year’s Detroit-Toronto game at Michigan Stadium did a 2.9 rating.
Chicago did its part with an 11.4 rating on WMAQ-Ch. 5; 1 local ratings point is worth an estimated 35,500 households. The nation’s No. 3 market accounted for more than 20 percent of NBC’s overall audience.
Why weren’t the numbers bigger? A few factors could have been in play:
*A sunny, relatively nice Washington day in the 40s negated much of the intrigue of playing in the elements on Jan. 1. Games in snow and cold usually draw more non-traditional hockey viewers.
*No offense to Nationals Park, but it doesn’t have the same iconic appeal as previous Winter Classic venues like Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, and Michigan Stadium.
*Strong competition from compelling early afternoon bowl games on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC likely cut into the Winter Classic’s numbers. The Cotton Bowl (Michigan State-Baylor) and Outback Bowl (Wisconsin-Auburn) each had last-minute finishes.
*Last year, the NHL staged six outdoor games, including the Winter Classic. Perhaps the novelty of seeing these games is wearing off?
Yet having said all that, Thursday’s Winter Classic rating is up 77 percent from NBC’s regular-season rating for the NHL last year. It still is a strong number for hockey on a day traditionally dominated by football.