Opening Night Of NHL Playoffs, NCAA’s Frozen Four See Sharp Rise In Viewership

Graphic: NHL/ESPN

The 2023 NHL postseason kicked off Monday night on ESPN, and according to Sports Media Watch, viewership was up double-digits from last season.

Per Sports Media Watch, Monday’s opening night of the playoffs averaged 672,000 viewers on ESPN and ESPN2, up 17% from last year. Game 1 of Panthers-Bruins led the way with a 1.07 million viewers on ESPN, up 25% from Bruins-Hurricanes last year (857K) and the largest audience on record for a first round opener on cable.

Game 1 of Islanders-Hurricanes on ESPN2 averaged 642,000 viewers, up 38% from Lightning-Maple Leafs a year ago (466K).

However, not all games were up. The Kings-Oilers late-night game averaged 483,000 on ESPN — down 23% from Blues-Wild last year (626K). Compared to last year’s first round opener between the same two teams, which aired on ESPN2, viewership unsurprisingly increased from 352,000.


The NCAA’s Frozen Four also saw a significant rise in viewership. In the semi-finals, Quinnipiac-Michigan averaged a 0.23 and 435,000 and Minnesota-Boston U a 0.14 and 279,000 in last Thursday’s semifinals — both up sharply from last year’s equivalent games (Denver-Michigan: 0.13, 255K; Minnesota State-Minnesota: 169K). Both games this year aired on ESPN2, while last year’s late game aired on ESPNU.

The Quinnipiac-Minnesota title game on ESPN2 averaged a 0.40 and 808,000, up 90% in ratings and 100% in viewership from last year (Denver-Minnesota State: 0.21, 404K) and the largest audience for the men’s hockey final since 2011.


The bad news for the NHL and its national broadcast partners is that viewership took a small step back during the regular season. According to the Sports Business Journal, the NHL averaged 583,000 viewers for live games on Disney networks this season and 364,000 on TNT. The Disney viewership is down 2% from last year, and the TNT viewership is up 1%. However, that step back can be attributed to those networks airing nearly 50% more games than last year.

According to Awful Announcing, the package of ABC games, which increased to 15 from nine last season, averaged a million viewers and was up 19% from the 2021-22 season.

TNT aired 61 games this year, compared to 50 last season. Unlike in 2021-22, many of this year’s games were blacked out in the local markets of the teams playing. The games that did not include local blackouts were up 9% from last season’s overall average.

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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7 Responses to Opening Night Of NHL Playoffs, NCAA’s Frozen Four See Sharp Rise In Viewership

  1. novafyre says:

    When I couldn’t watch the Caps or Bolts on their regional stations, I watched the ESPN or TNT video but listened to the teams’ radio stations. Awkward, but better than listening to the dreadful national TV announcers.

    OK, they aren’t all bad, but it seems to me that we got the bad ones more often than not.

    FloHockey (ECHL) and AHLtv don’t have the best video, using only the arena feeds, but their announcers are the teams’ radio announcers and are synchronized with the video so you get to listen to what you’re seeing (or see what you’re listening to) and have the option of home or away.

    I don’t remember feeling this way when I used to watch the NFL. I liked listening to Redskins radio but didn’t feel I needed to in order to enjoy the game.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      I’m not liking the huge delay, because I use Twitter during games. Always see goals called well in advance on Twitter. There was a similar issue at times with Capitals games this season, although it wasn’t a constant issue. The beauty of old school broadcasting it was all fairly close to real time. Now the signals need to travel through all sorts of networking.

      • Anonymous says:

        How else do you expect Hulu and co. to ram 20% more commercials down our throats?

      • novafyre says:

        I don’t mind hearing the action before seeing it as long as the delay isn’t too great. Wakes me up during a dull game. But I wouldn’t be able to take the reverse.

        Like a good book or movie, I can watch good games (entertaining ones not just winning ones) late. If it’s good entertainment, it’s good entertainment. When I lived overseas, I watched the Redskins weeks later on VHS tapes sent over. Weeks.

  2. Prevent Defense says:

    Watching what “goes down” during NHL playoff games the past few seasons, especially the current one …. We have commentary about who are the Dirtiest Teams in the NHL. A list is provided!

    There are many reasons for this but my observation is that the Gambling Industry and the Toronto-based NHL Front Office (Crime Central) obviously “play” their favorites. They quietly notify Team “X” (PIT or TBL or COL or …) that they can take ugly liberties with opponents. The REAL NHL, before Gory Buttman and George Parrot (sorry, Parros), practiced self-policing and it worked wonderfully — Weenie Wimp Critics notwithstanding. But today’s NHL must satisfy the greed of multinational corporate betting on NHL games — and lining the pockets of crooked NHL execs.

    It was on display in last night’s CAR vs NYI game. I have no great love for either team or franchise. But I watched the game. In the Overtime period, the CAR team obviously “got the word” from the NHL gambling crowd that they had green-light to manhandle their opponent. For a five-minute stretch the CAR folks slashed and whacked and mauled and tackled their NYI opponent, leading finally to the winning goal against their exhausted opponent. Referees “put their whistles away.” They did the same thing to Brooks Orpik and the Caps four seasons ago.

    So: On with the list – Dirtiest NHL Teams 2015-2023:

    Tampa Bay Lightning (hands down)
    Pittsburgh Penguins
    Carolina Hurricanes
    Anaheim Ducks
    Colorado Avalanche
    Honorable Mention:
    Boston Bruins
    Minnesota Wild
    Vegas Golden Knights
    A “dirtiest players” list would be great, and my good friends here in NovaCapsFans Comment Land surely have favorite candidates!

    • novafyre says:

      Fine line between dirtiest and most physical. Is Willy dirty or just very physical?

      Jon Cooper prefers a physical brand of hockey. Says it often in pressers and interviews. So he wants all his players to crowd that line. Doesn’t mean that they don’t often cross it. Pat Maroon is the NHL’s most penalized player this year. But he plays in front of the opponent’s net causing chaos, something that the Caps have tried to find for years. While being that lightning rod others score. So he is effective at his job. Do I feel he is a dirty player? No. Aggressive gadfly? Yes.

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