The Penguins-Flyers Stadium Series game.

There’s been discussion for a while about if the NHL’s annual outdoor games (the Jan. 1 Winter Classic and the subsequent Stadium Series game or games) are losing some of their appeal, especially on the TV side. Well, Saturday’s game was a data point in the other direction, with the Pittsburgh Penguins-Philadelphia Flyers Stadium Series game at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Field pulling in a total audience delivery of 1.97 million viewers on average, the best number for a Stadium Series game in five years and a 76 percent year-over-year boost over the Toronto Maple Leafs-Washington Capitals game at Navy’s Annapolis Stadium last year. And that number even outperformed this year’s NHL All-Star Game. Here’s more from NBC’s release:

Saturday night’s 2019 NHL Stadium Series game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers on NBC averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of nearly two million viewers, making it the most-watched NHL regular-season game in five years, excluding Winter Classics. The battle of Pennsylvania — which was won by the Flyers in overtime, 4-3, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia — was also the most-streamed Stadium Series game ever and set numerous local ratings records. Highlights include:

  • The game (8-11:10 p.m. ET) averaged a TAD of 1.965 million viewers, the most for a non-Winter Classic regular-season game in five years, since the 2014 Stadium Series game between the Penguins and Blackhawks (2.767 million).
  • The TAD was up 76% vs. the 2018 Stadium Series game between the Maple Leafs and Capitals (1.116 million).

…Locally, both markets set regular-season records in their respective markets for NBC games, excluding Winter Classics and the regionalized coverage of the 2013 season opener. Pittsburgh delivered a 16.9 local rating, while Philadelphia scored a 6.3 rating. NBC was the No. 1 network in both markets during the game.

Penguins-Flyers delivered a TV-only 1.943 million viewers and 1.14 household rating on NBC.

That rating also puts this close to the 2.0 million viewers the NHL All-Star Game drew last month, and it’s quite impressive for a non-Winter Classic regular season game. It’s also a sharp rise over last year’s Stadium Series ratings; granted, Leafs-Capitals had the disadvantage of including a Canadian market not measured in NBC’s Nielsen ratings (the strength of the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia numbers here is important), but this is still a major gain over that.

Of course, it helped that this was a close game throughout (a game going to overtime is always good for ratings, and the audience here peaked at 2.653 million viewers during overtime); by comparison, Washington won last year’s game 5-2, the score they led by after two periods, so many may have checked out early. There also wasn’t a ton of great sports competition on Saturday night; ABC’s NBA broadcast (Houston-Golden State, with James Harden sitting out) grabbed 3.4 million viewers, while Duke-Syracuse on ESPN (with no Zion Williamson) pulled in 2.98 million, and the AAF did well with 491,000 viewers on NFL Network, but this was still a relatively favorable matchup for the NHL. And hey, Gritty’s antics got some social media buzz, and might have led to some people tuning in. But this is still a good result for the NHL and for NBC.

This isn’t necessarily a wider indication that everything is always going to be great for the Stadium Series. It’s one data point, and the numbers for the last batch of Stadium Series games haven’t been as good. But this certainly is a good sign that Stadium Series games can still pull in strong ratings with the right matchups and timing, and with the game playing out the right way. We’ll see if that trend holds up down the road.

[NBC Sports PR]

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.