According to Sports Media Watch, the NHL’s return to ESPN has already paid off in the ratings with a record Opening Night audience.
Tuesday’s Penguins-Lightning NHL Opening Night game averaged 983,000 viewers on ESPN, the league’s largest Opening Night audience ever on cable (dates back to 1993). The previous high was 956,000 for Flyers-Bruins on NBCSN in 2014.
Regardless of network, it was the largest audience for the first national NHL telecast of any season since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign — when the season opened with a regional window on NBC (Blackhawks-Kings or Flyers-Penguins: 2.8M).
The Penguins-Lightning game increased 36% from Capitals-Blues on NBCSN in October 2019, the last traditional (pre-pandemic) Opening Night (983K). Last season’s first game, Flyers-Penguins on a Wednesday afternoon in January, averaged 932,000 on NBCSN.
In Tuesday night’s late game, the Kraken-Golden Knights averaged 783,000 — up 107% from Sharks-Golden Knights in ’19 (379K).
By Jon Sorensen