The first current night of the NHL on ESPN started off pretty strong. ESPN’s opening-night doubleheader of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning and Seattle Kraken-Vegas Golden Knights drew average audiences of 983,000 and 783,000 respectively, which they cited as the top opening-night audiences on record. Here’s more from their release:
The 2021 NHL FaceOff doubleheader marked the return of the NHL to the ESPN networks for the first time since 2004 and set a new high-water mark as the most-viewed NHL season-opening doubleheader on record.
ESPN’s presentation of the two-game doubleheader featured the Pittsburgh Penguins against the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning (7:30 p.m. ET) and Seattle Kraken’s franchise debut against the Vegas Golden Knights (10:15 p.m. ET).
Combined, the NHL Faceoff doubleheader on ESPN averaged 884,000 viewers on ESPN over the more than five-hour window, which is up 54 percent over the 2019-20 season-opening doubleheader and up 19 percent over the 2020-21 season-opening tripleheader. It also topped the 2018 season-opening doubleheader by 81 percent. Among viewers 18-49, the doubleheader is up 28 percent vs the 2020-21 season-opening tripleheader, and up 56 percent and 74 percent respectively vs the 2019 and 2018 opening doubleheaders.
As per that release (and also Mitch Metcalf at ShowBuzz Daily), the Penguins-Lightning game drew an average audience of of 984,000 viewers, while the Kraken-Golden Knights game drew an average audience of 782,000. It should be noted that neither figure includes streaming audiences; both games were streamed on ESPN+, so there are further viewers there that aren’t included in these numbers.
Those are certainly good numbers, especially against two MLB playoff games. We’ll see how they hold up for ESPN in the weeks and months to come. And we’ll see where ESPN’s NHL broadcast goes from here.