The game drew an average viewership of 27.6 million, making it the most-watched hockey broadcast since the U.S. team beat Finland to win gold at 1980 Olympics. That game drew 32.8 million fans and came on the heels of the historic U.S. win against the U.S.S.R. in the "Miracle on Ice" game.
It was also the most-watched television broadcast ever in Canadian history, with an average audience of 16.6 million viewers. Nearly half of the Canadian population watched the entire game on average, while 80 percent of Canadians watched some part of the game (26.5 million). The game aired live on nine television networks in eight languages via Canada's Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium.
"That's one of the greatest sports events I have ever seen," NBC Olympic host Bob Costas said of USA-Canada on Sunday. "A script so classic that if it were a movie, they would send it back because it was unrealistic."
The audience for Sunday's game peaked at 34.8 million viewers from 5:30-6 p.m. ET, when Team USA's Zach Parise sent the game to overtime with the tying goal with just 24.4 seconds left in regulation. Canada's Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal for Canada at 7:40 of overtime.
The number of fans watching the gold-medal game eclipsed a number of other major sports events this season, including the 2010 Rose Bowl (24.0 million), the 2009 World Series (22.8 million for Game 4, the most-watched game), the 2009 NCAA men's basketball championship game (17.6 million), the 2009 NBA Finals (16.0 million for Game 4, the most-watched game) and the 2010 Daytona 500 (16.0 million).
In individual markets, the game garnered the highest ratings in Buffalo, where U.S. goalie Ryan Miller plays (32.6/51) and Pittsburgh, Crosby's home NHL city (31.9/50). Rounding out the top five are Detroit (26.9/47), Minneapolis (26.4/53) and Milwaukee (24.5/43). In all, the game did better than a 20.0 rating in 11 major media markets, including Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Denver, Philadelphia and West Palm Beach, Fla.
"We've been fortunate to have a front-row seat to observe a nation of fans that appreciates winter sports, is proud of their winter sport heritage and celebrates success -- no matter which country wins -- so it was only fitting yesterday when Sidney Crosby scored the goal to give Canadians the gold that meant so much to this country," said Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Universal Sports and Olympics. "'O Canada' will never be the same."
NBC's Universal Sports will replay the gold-medal game Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.