The 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which earned the best regular season U.S. television viewership in 36 years, also drove significant business growth and fan engagement across all NHL platforms.
In its fourth year, the NHL Winter Classic, showed double- and triple-digit gains in all key metrics on NHL.com and NHL.com Mobile, while fueling retail growth of 78 percent. As further evidence of the growing popularity of the NHL Winter Classic franchise from both a consumer and business standpoint, all network advertising was sold out well ahead of the broadcast on NBC, and all sponsorship opportunities were sold out as well. Sponsorship revenue for the event finished up 20 percent over last year. The viewership for the U.S. broadcast on NBC gained 22 percent over last year's New Year's Day outdoor game. The game attracted a sellout crowd of 68,111 at Heinz Field as the Washington Capitals defeated the host Penguins 3-1.
"The impact of the NHL Winter Classic goes well beyond television," said NHL COO John Collins. "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 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 substantial growth in NHL Winter Classic merchandise sales mirrors the increased profile of the event and the global demand for all things NHL. Some highlights from the 2011 NHL Winter Classic include: NHL Winter Classic retail merchandise sales increased by 78 percent over 2010; the entire inventory of 38,000 NHL Winter Classic jerseys sold out, representing a 17 percent increase from year before; stadium concession sales were up 24 percent; other categories showing significant growth: (all apparel up 41 percent; children's apparel up 107 percent; youth jerseys up 150 percent; women's apparel up 56 percent; gift and novelty sales (driven by "Terrible Towels) up 282 percent).
"The NHL Winter Classic was a successful venture for Dick's Sporting Goods," said William Colombo, Vice Chairman of Dick's Sporting Goods. "We were proud to be a Presenting Sponsor of this year's game. Our partnership with the NHL and Reebok enabled us to offer a great assortment of Winter Classic product in our Dick's stores in Pittsburgh and Washington, our temporary Winter Classic pop-up store in downtown Pittsburgh and our mobile store on-site at the NHL's Spectator Plaza next to Heinz Field."
Winter Classic sales at the NHL Store Powered by Reebok were up 59 percent, led by jersey sales (up 121 percent) and T-shirts (up 79 percent).
On Shop.NHL.com, the NHL's official online retail outlet, sales increased by 61 percent year over year, with a 33 percent increase in units sold. Leading the way were jerseys (up 107 percent), player apparel (up 105 percent) and women's apparel (up 93 percent).
Growth was driven by the increase in popularity of the NHL Winter Classic franchise, heavy promotional support from NHL-controlled media and the matchup of two of the game's best teams and biggest superstars in Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.
In addition NHL.com had a 30 percent increase in unique visitors, 147 percent increase in video starts and 31 percent increase in overall visits from the previous New Year's Day. The Winter Classic also drove the best day of season to the NHL mobile site.
The NHL activated a unique promotional campaign that integrated Facebook into NBC's New Year's Day broadcast of the NHL Winter Classic through a "Watch and Win" promotion. Facebook referrals to NHL.com: were up 83 percent over Jan. 1, 2010. Driven by the Facebook/NBC "Watch and Win" Campaign, Dec. 28 was the highest referring day ever for Facebook to NHL.com. The NHL Winter Classic peaked at No. 6 in global trending on Twitter on New Year's Day, and Jan. 1 was the second highest day for Twitter referrals in NHL.com history.
The 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. 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).
The 2.3 national rating and 4 share for the 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 NHL Winter Classic in 2008 that featured the Penguins and earned a 17.7 in the market.
In addition, the French-language broadcast of the Winter Classic on RDS in Canada drew 304,000 viewers up 2% over last year and earned an 11 share.