The new NHL season began this weekend, and the fans who have helped make the league a $3.3 billion business showed their support by watching the games on television and buying tickets in impressive numbers.
One of the biggest winners of opening weekend was NBC Sports, evidenced by the network's stellar ratings on Saturday:
NBC's NHL coverage yesterday scores 2.0 overnight rating, best for non-Winter Classic regular-season game in decade (2002-ABC) #hockeyisback— NBCSportsPR (@NBCSportsPR) January 20, 2013
2.0 o'night for 2-game regional cov of Chi-LA & Pit-Phi is best 4 non-Winter Classic reg-season gm ever on NBC & up 67% vs '12 reg-seas avg— NBCSportsPR (@NBCSportsPR) January 20, 2013
While the impressive ratings are a good sign for NBC, it's not a huge surprise that so many fans were interested in the start of the new season since the opening day schedule was packed with rivalry games.
Giving fans exciting rivalry matchups to enjoy on the first day of the season not only helped the national ratings, several local markets also had very high ratings (via NBC Sports PR):
Pittsburgh (19.4), Philadelphia (7.8) & Chicago (6.6) local ratings r best-ever for non-WC reg-season gms on NBC. LA (1.5) is best since '07— NBCSportsPR (@NBCSportsPR) January 20, 2013
The Pittsburgh number, in particular, was just amazing. Penguins fans love their team, and they proved it on Saturday by watching Sidney Crosby and Co. defeat the rival Philadelphia Flyers.
During the 113-day lockout that wiped out almost half of the 2012-13 season, many people understood the fans' frustration, but were confident that they would come back and support the league whenever the labor struggle was over.
Not only did fans watch games on television, they bought lots of tickets and helped many teams sell out on opening day
Every NHL team that played at home on Saturday had an attendance percentage of 100 percent or higher.
|Pens vs. Flyers||Wells Fargo Center||19,994||19,537|
|Senators vs. Jets||MTS Centre||15,004||15,004|
|Blackhawks vs. Kings||Staples Center||18,545||18,118|
|Rangers vs. Bruins||TD Garden||17,565||17,565|
|Leafs at Canadiens||Bell Centre||21,273||21,273|
|Devils vs. Islanders||Nassau Coliseum||16,170||16,170|
|Hurricanes vs. Panthers||BB&T Center||19,204||19,204|
|Capitals vs. Lightning||Tampa Bay Times Forum||19,688||19,250|
|Red Wings vs Blues||Scottrade Center||20,035||19,150|
|Blue Jackets vs. Predators||Bridgestone Arena||17,113||17,113|
|Coyotes vs. Stars||American Airlines Arena||18,532||18,532|
|Avalanche vs. Wild||Xcel Energy Center||19,298||18,064|
|Ducks vs. Canucks||Rogers Arena||18,910||18,910|
In addition to giving fans the opportunity to finally watch their favorite NHL players again, many teams thanked fans for their support by organizing a number of different promotions, giveaways and discounts on merchandise and concessions.
Buffalo Sabres fans were able to meet players, coaches and even team owner Terry Pegula before Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers at the First Niagara Center:
Montreal Canadiens gave away one free beer at the Bell Centre on Saturday during the team's matchup against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs (via Renaud Lavoie of RDS):
Every fan at Bell Center can have a free beer tonight.— Renaud Lavoie (@RenLavoieRDS) January 19, 2013
While the large amount of fan support on opening day from both from television and attendance perspectives is a great sign for the NHL, it would be unwise to expect this much support for every game.
These promotions and fan events won't last for the entire season, and when teams start to struggle, it will be interesting to see if fans continue to show a high level of support.
Fans in the large and traditional hockey markets will likely support their teams throughout the entire season, and it will be the support seen in the nontraditional markets that will really show the health of the league following the lockout.
The amount of support from the fans on opening weekend was great for the NHL, but for the league to fully recover from the most recent lockout, it needs the fans to continue to support the game for the entire season.