Despite significant sports competition out there, NBC’s NHL coverage across its channels is posting ratings gains. Earlier this week, NBC announced that its regular season-coverage on NBCSN (94 games) pulled in 378,000 viewers on average, the best numbers for a full season of hockey on cable in 22 years and a eight percent boost over last year’s 349,000. The 11 NHL on NBC games also rose, climbing six per cent year over year and pulling in 1.545 million viewers on average. As NBC announced in a series of tweets Thursday, too, the first night of the Stanley Cup playoffs Wednesday drew record audiences:

It is impressive to see record postseason numbers and year-over-year regular season gains, and the 378,000 viewers NBCSN averaged for regular-season hockey are nothing to sneeze at; they’re a big boost over the days of the NHL on NBCSN predecessors OLN and Versus. However, it’s worth noting that’s still a long ways behind the average of 474,000 ESPN and ESPN2 drew for 33 NHL games in 1993-94.

That’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, of course. The marketplace has changed in the last two decades, and the NHL is likely far better off with prime slots and promotion on NBC and its channels than it would be as low-ranking content amidst ESPN’s vast quantity of rights. The numbers of games here also play a factor; ESPN showed 33 games in 93-94 versus the 94 NBCSN showed this year, so ESPN was able to pick and choose more, and the Wednesday Night Rivalry games NBCSN did pick and choose drew even better audiences (608,000 for 24 games, up eight percent year-over-year). Still, despite its success, hockey isn’t blowing the sports world away with these numbers.

That’s true for the postseason, too. Posting the best-ever Stanley Cup playoff opening night is terrific, especially when you consider the two historic NBA games (the Warriors’ push for 73 wins and Kobe Bryant’s final game) on the same night. However, while a 0.47 is progress, it’s not earthshattering: for comparison, those NBA games, on ESPN and ESPN2 respectively, pulled in a 2.7 and a 2.6 in the overnights. So, hockey is a long way from being a dominant sports property overall. It’s one that’s worked very well for NBC, though, and this continued growth suggests it may continue to do so for some time to come.

[NBC Sports Press Box]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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