National interest in the Winter Classic seems to be waning

The Winter Classic is still a successful, money-making event that sells out to big crowds. Fenway Park was at capacity with 39,243 tickets sold for the Boston Bruins’ outdoor game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. There’s no doubt that the Winter Classic is the NHL’s most prestigious event of the regular season.

But national interest in outdoor games seems to be waning as the novelty of the spectacle has worn off.

The 2023 iteration of the game was “the most-watched NHL regular-season game of all-time on cable television.”

That all sounds great, but it’s a lot of nuanced, feel-good PR speak to try and make you ignore the context.

The 2023 Winter Classic finished eighth on cable that day, behind seven other sports-related programs, including NFL and college football games. A 1 AM airing of SportsCenter finished ahead of the Classic.

This year’s game was held on January 2 instead of the traditional New Years Day so the league could avoid going head-to-head with regular-season NFL games, which says something in itself. The Winter Classic also missed out on network coverage, getting shown on TNT and on cable for the second consecutive year.

Although the 2023 Winter Classic did 31 percent better than the 2022 iteration, it also featured two of the biggest teams in the NHL from two of its biggest markets. The 2022 Winter Classic pitted the Minnesota Wild versus the St. Louis Blues.

Ratings for the Winter Classic have been in a tailspin since the league reached a record-high 4.50 million average viewers for the Penguins-Capitals game in 2011. The first 12 Winter Classics were aired on network TV before falling to cable. The league also no longer does its promotional “Road to the Winter Classic” show running up to the game.

Year Teams Ratings (Avg. Viewers)
2008 PIT/BUF 3.75 million
2009 DET/CHI 4.40 million
2010 PHI/BOS 3.68 million
2011 WSH/PIT 4.50 million
2012 NYR/PHI 3.73 million
2014 TOR/DET 4.40 million
2015 CHI/WSH; 3.47 million
2016 MTL/BOS 2.78 million
2017 CHI/STL 2.56 million
2018 NYR/BUF 1.4 million
2019 CHI/BOS 2.97 million
2020 NSH/DAL 1.96 million
2022 STL/MIN 1.4 million
2023 PIT/BOS 1.78 million

While some of the slide could be explained by TV ratings in general going down due to increased viewership on streaming and social media, that does not seem to completely explain what’s going on with the pinnacle NHL game.

It’s unfortunate. Winter Classics were once touted as a way for the league to reach new fans. Now it doesn’t even seem to attract as many hardcore hockey fans anymore.

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Read More: National interest in the Winter Classic seems to be waning 2023-01-07 03:52:13

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