On New Year's Day, NHL fans told the Winter Classic "I will be with you again."
The sixth incarnation of the event, held at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, drew a 2.9 overnight rating. That ties the 2009 incarnation of the event — which featured the Red Wings against the Chicago Blackhawks — and is up 21 percent from the New York-Philadelphia iteration (2.4) two years ago, which was the only non-New Year's Day edition of the game. Due to the lockout, that was the most recent staging of the event.
A 2.9 rating puts the 2014 Winter Classic in a tie with the aformentioned 2009 game as the highest-rated (at least in the overnights) regular season hockey game ever recorded, according to the Nielsen company. No Winter Classic has drawn lower than 2012's 2.4. This is especially impressive considering the game featured a Canadian team, but like the Montreal Canadiens, the Maple Leafs have been around long enough to likely attract a hefty American fanbase.
Detroit led all markets with an 18.0 rating. Despite getting beaten by the 27.9 rating for the Rose Bowl, that is still a mighty haul. The 2009 Winter Classic drew a 10.5 in the D. Buffalo, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Washington all drew Top 10 ratings. In New York, the game out-rated every Rangers, Islanders and Devils game so far this season. Just from studying the local market ratings, markets that are usually around a 1 rating for the Stanley Cup Finals were doubled up to 2s. That could be a big sign that the Winter Classic is really starting to take roots and isn't just a locally driven phenomenon.
The resurgence (if you can call it that) of the Winter Classic will put a lot more pressure on the NHL's Stadium Series, which begins on January 25th. As for the original outdoor showdown, Next year's Winter Classic will be in Washington, though we don't know where (probably Nationals Park) and we don't know against whom (probably the Flyers, if reports are to be believed). What we do know is that the ratings will likely remain big, relative to the NHL, for the event for some time.