NEW YORK -- Saturday night's Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on NBC (8-11 p.m. ET) was the most-viewed NHL regular season game in 36 years with an average of 4.5 million watching in primetime as the Washington Capitals defeated the host Pittsburgh Penguins in front of more than 68,000 at sold out Heinz Field. The 4.5 million viewers represents a 22-percent increase over last year's game played in Boston's Fenway Park (3.7 million viewers).
Four of the five most-watched NHL regular season games since 1975 are now NHL Winter Classic broadcasts.
Most-Watched NHL Regular-Season Games Since 1975
* 4.5 million Jan. 1, 2011 NBC Capitals-Penguins
* 4.4 million Jan. 1, 2009 NBC Red Wings-Blackhawks
* 3.8 million Jan. 27, 1996 FOX Six-game regional coverage
* 3.8 million Jan. 1, 2008 NBC Penguins-Sabres
* 3.7 million Jan. 1, 2010 NBC Flyers-Bruins
The 2.3 national rating and 4 share for the NHL Winter Classic achieved a 10 percent increase from last year (2.1/4, 1-4 p.m. ET). The game earned a 32.0/46 in Pittsburgh and a 7.6/13 in Washington D.C. The 32.0 rating in Pittsburgh is up a whopping 81 percent over the inaugural Winter Classic in 2008 that featured the Penguins and earned a 17.7 in the market.
The milestone was achieved despite the fact that, due to weather, late on Friday the announced start time of the event was changed from 1 p.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET resulting in the NHL Winter Classic going head-to-head with eight U.S. hockey markets, including overtime games involving New York, Boston and Buffalo.
"By all measures, this will be the most successful NHL Winter Classic yet," said NHL COO John Collins. "We are thrilled with the strong viewership and growth on NBC, especially considering the short notice on the time change and the head-to-head hockey competition we ended up facing in eight of our U.S. markets. The impact of the NHL Winter Classic goes well beyond television. The event greatly enhances all of our global businesses, from NHL.com and NHL Network, to advertising and sponsorship, and of course, the NHL Winter Classic delivered significant economic impact to Pittsburgh.
"The scene in Pittsburgh was simply spectacular – a real celebration of hockey – and the weather will no doubt become part of NHL Winter Classic lore. Each NHL Winter Classic is unique and special in its own way. In Buffalo in 2008, our players showed we can play in the snow and Saturday night the Penguins and Capitals showed we can have a hard-fought and entertaining game in the rain. It was a memorable night as we saw once again why the NHL Winter Classic has quickly earned its place as a New Year's Day tradition and one of the most anticipated major national sports events of the year."
The 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic also won the night for NBC against the other broadcast networks in the highly-coveted Adults 18-49 demographic. The event earned a 1.8/5 in the demo, besting Fox (1.6/5), CBS (1.2/3) and ABC (0.9/3).
AOL Fanhouse on the event: "The NHL once again knocked it out of the park."
ESPN.com on the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic: "An awesome event…Every outdoor game has been different so far. We've seen snow, we've seen rain, we've been in baseball fields and football fields. I think that's part of the attractiveness of the event."
Sidney Crosby on the NHL Winter Classic: "Playing hockey in front of that many people, it's something that probably none of us ever dreamed of doing. It would have been nice to be on the other side of things, but it's still a privilege to be part of that. And we had amazing support. The event was great. I think everyone enjoyed it, and obviously we've seen year after year, it's getting bigger and bigger."
Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau on the NHL Winter Classic: "This is as close to the Stanley Cup as we've gotten. We are not denying that it was more than just two points. It was a fabulous game."
The 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic continues the league's media growth and momentum.
Additional recent television milestones for the NHL include:
* In the 2010 Playoffs, Chicago's Game 6 Stanley Cup Final-clinching win over Philadelphia on NBC was watched by 8.28 million, making it the most-watched NHL game in the U.S. in 36 years. Overall, NBC's four broadcasts in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final were the most-watched in the U.S. in 13 years.
* The 2010 Playoffs on VERSUS were the most watched on U.S. cable in eight years. VERSUS this year dropped the puck on its sixth year of NHL coverage with the most-watched opening night game (Flyers at Penguins, 10/8/10) on U.S. cable in eight years and the most-watched NHL regular season cable telecast (Penguins at Flyers, 12/14/10) in VERSUS history.
* All four Winter Classic broadcasts on NBC have been among the most-watched NHL regular season games in history.