In the U.S., VERSUS set a network record by averaging 534,328 viewers with their opening night triple-header, the best opening night in its six years of Stanley Cup Playoffs coverage and a 12 percent increase over last year. In Canada, CBC earned a 29 percent increase over last year by averaging 1.58 million viewers for its two opening night playoff broadcasts, highlighted by its coverage of Chicago-Vancouver, up a whopping 207 percent over the comparable game last year (Colorado-San Jose). TSN's telecast of New York-Washington delivered 664,000 viewers; good for a 38 percent gain compared to last year's opening playoff broadcast featuring two U.S. based teams (Philadelphia-New Jersey, 481,000 viewers).
Locally, Comcast SportsNet's scored with its Game 1 coverage of the Washington-New York series, posting a 6.2 rating in the D.C. market, making it the second-highest Capitals rating in network history, behind only Game 7 of last year's first-round series vs. Montreal (8.10) and up 21 percent over last year's Game 1 against Montreal. The game also earned strong ratings in New York despite head-to-head competition from the Knicks, Yankees and Mets. The 3.4 local rating in New York on MSG Plus made it the highest-rated Conference Quarterfinal telecast for the Rangers since 1997. On ROOT Sports in Pittsburgh, the Penguins earned a massive 16.2 for its win over Tampa Bay. Detroit responded to the Red Wings Game 1 victory over Phoenix with a 9.4 rating on Fox Sports Detroit, while the Blackhawks drew a 5.1 on Comcast SportsNet for its Game 1 loss in Vancouver.
NHL.com continued its upward trajectory for the first day of the playoffs with unique visitors up 23 percent, page views up 22 percent and video starts showing a huge 163 percent increase. On the mobile side, page views were up a healthy 66 percent.
Some notes from NHL.com's opening night success: The top 10 U.S. markets showed year over year growth, even across cities that participated in last year's opening day of the playoffs but did not have a game on Wednesday such as Philadelphia and San Jose Five of the six Canadian NHL cities also showed growth despite one fewer Canadian team making the playoffs International demand for the game continues to be strong, with double digit unique visitor growth across the top 10 countries The U.S. gained 27 percent, Canada gained 17 percent, while Finland led with 68 percent growth The Capitals are showing strength as a regional team with Norfolk (58 percent), Washington D.C. (50 percent) and Richmond (46 percent) all among the top 10 U.S. markets in terms of year over year growth in unique visitors to NHL.com In New York, where the Rangers returned to the playoffs after a one year absence, unique visitors were up 38 percent Tampa-St. Pete showed substantial growth of 79 percent as did Nashville, up 52 percent The state of California also registered gains with Los Angeles up 32 percent and San Francisco/San Jose/Oakland up 22 percent
NHL in Midst of Best-Ever Business Year
As announced on Wednesday, the NHL experienced unprecedented success off the ice this year, achieving a host of business records and milestones. Led by dramatic increases in sponsorship and merchandise sales, landmark corporate investment in its big events and impressive digital growth, the NHL is on pace for its fifth consecutive year of record total revenue and is projected to bring more than $2.9 billion by the end of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. NHL Enterprises' revenue is forecasted to increase by 14.8 percent and also will set a new best. Sponsorship sales set an all-time record with gross sales increasing by 33 percent over last year as the League added to its blue chip roster of corporate partners, attracted by the most coveted fan demographic in all of pro sports. In February, the NHL announced a new seven-year partnership with Molson Coors in Canada and MillerCoors in the U.S. to begin in July – the biggest sponsorship in the League's 93-year history.
The NHL's large-scale events in 2010-11 were once again a big driver of business growth for the League. The Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, the League's annual outdoor New Year's Day game, played this year at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, sold out of all of its sponsorship opportunities and at the time generated more revenue than any event in NHL history. That record was broken just seven weeks later when the Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic in Calgary, played for the first time since 2003, surpassed that mark. NHL All-Star returned after a one-year hiatus for the Olympics and was a huge success, boasting a 64 percent increase in sponsorship revenue over the last U.S.-based All-Star, as Discover Card was brought on board as the first presenting sponsor in a decade. Interest in the event spiked as the NHL introduced the innovative NHL All-
Star Fantasy Draft Powered By Cisco as a means to select the two teams.
On the TV side, all North American partners experienced viewership increases while reaching new heights. NBC Sports' Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic broadcast was the most watched regular season game in the U.S. in 36 years. On U.S. cable this season, VERSUS recorded its top four games in network history this season. VERSUS also earned its highest ever NHL All-Star ratings for the 2011 game in Raleigh.
The League's loyal fans continued to crave all things NHL, driving merchandise sales to a robust a 15 percent increase over last year with Shop.NHL.com setting a new best with nine percent growth over last year's record.
The NHL's digital businesses continued to deliver new high-water marks and record revenue. Average monthly unique visitors to NHL.com this season are up 30 percent. In March, NHL.com set monthly records in unique visitors and video starts, and is currently on pace to top those numbers in April. Revenue for the NHL's digital businesses increased by 14 percent, with NHL.com revenue alone up 28 percent, setting a new best. Fans also continued to connect with the NHL via social media platforms, with the League reaching nearly 1.5 million fans on Facebook and growing its number of Twitter followers by 54 percent.