NHL started its $1 billion deal with ESPN and Turner Sports – here’s how many people watched the season openers

Pittsburgh Penguins center Evan Rodriguez (9) has a break and Tampa Bay Lightning guard Andrei Vasilevsky (88) saves during an NHL hockey game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins on October 12, 2021 at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.

Andrew Pershaw | Icon Sportswear | Getty Images

The National Hockey League kicked off its 2021-22 season on Tuesday. It’s also the first year of a $1 billion media rights package with ESPN and Turner Sports.

The networks averaged 884,000 viewers for the ESPN dual channel on Tuesday, and Turner drew nearly 669,500 viewers in its national venue on Wednesday. Both numbers are above the NHL average in their last two season openers.

The first game for ESPN featured the Pittsburgh Penguins’ victory over Stanley Cup holders Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-2. This game averaged 984,000 viewers, on Tuesday, and peaked at more than 1 million viewers, according to ESPN, which used metrics from research firm Nielsen.

The Disney-owned network added that the 2021 competition topped the last highly-rated NHL tournament in October 2001 between the Penguins and the Colorado Avalanche. That 2001 editorial drew 927,000 viewers.

ESPN also debuted the expansion franchise’s Seattle Kraken, which fell to the Las Vegas Golden Knights, 4-3. The game averaged 782,000 viewers and also peaked with over 1 million viewers. The network said that ESPN+’s broadcast metrics are not included in its viewership statistics.

By comparison, the average total viewership for the 2020-21 NHL season opener was 972,000 on NBC Sports. That competition featured the Philadelphia Flyers and Penguins and was the most-watched regular season game on NBCSN.

Other games from the trio last season included the Chicago Blackhawks against the Lightning and the Avalanche against the St. Louis Blues. The TV syndication averaged 774,000 viewers, compared to 600,000 viewers the previous season.

Washington Capitals #8 Alex Ovechkin shoots the puck against the New York Rangers during the second period at Capital One Arena on October 13, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Patrick Smith | Getty Images

The NHL ended its 16-year partnership with NBC Sports and reached a $1 billion package with ESPN and Turner Sports last April.

On Wednesday, TNT rolled out the dual national package and included some cross appeals. The network featured NBA star Charles Barkley on the pre-game show with the Washington Capitals’ 5-1 victory over the New York Rangers. The game averaged 817,000 viewers, peaking at 920,000 viewers around 9:00 PM to 9:15 PM ET.

In the competition, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin scored twice to move up to fifth all-time. Ovechkin, 36, has 732 career goals and needs another 163 to pass Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 894 goals. TNT said it averaged 522,000 viewers for the second contest, which included avalanche avalanche, defeating Blackhawks 4-2.

On the advertising front, benchmarks firm EDO estimates that the automotive category leads with 15.4% of ad spend for the NHL openers of the season. Restaurants accounted for 12.9% and insurance accounted for 11.9% of advertising spending. EDO added Apple commercials that led to search interaction. It’s a metric the company uses to measure brands’ online search activity in the minutes after TV ads are broadcast.


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