NHL Opens 2013 Season with 13 Sellouts and Record Ratings

Nicholas GossCorrespondent IJanuary 20, 2013

Jan 19, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Bruins fans cheer for their team during a game against the New York Rangers during the second period at TD Garden.  Mandatory Credit: Michael Ivins-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Game Arena Attendance 100%
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:

Sabres Owner Terry Pegula and Sabres fans! #WeLiveHockey twitter.com/BuffaloSabres/…

— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) January 20, 2013

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.