NHL Winter Classic 2024 Jan 1, 2024; Seattle, Washington, USA; General view of T-Mobile Park during the second period in the 2024 Winter Classic ice hockey game between the Vegas Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

For the fourth time in a row, the NHL’s Winter Classic failed to crack two million viewers. However, this year’s game was the least watched yet.

The Seattle Kraken’s 3-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park on Monday averaged just 1.10 million viewers across TNT and truTV. The previous least-watched Winter Classic was in 2022 for Blues-Wild, which averaged 1.36 million viewers.

Perhaps more troubling for the NHL, the declining interest in the Winter Classic isn’t a blip anymore – it’s a trend. This was the fourth Winter Classic in a row to fall under two million viewers, dating back to the 2020 game between the Predators and Stars, which sat at 1.97 million. There was no game in 2021 due to the pandemic and the delayed start to the NHL season.

While the switch from broadcast to cable in 2022 thanks to the NHL’s new media rights deals with Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery hasn’t helped, that 2020 game aired on NBC proper.

The Winter Classic always has a tough slate of competition on New Year’s Day thanks to college football bowl games, but this year was especially rough. The game itself started around 3 p.m. ET and went head-to-head with some of the Citrus Bowl on ABC (6.797 million), Reliaquest Bowl on ESPN2 (4.613 million), and Fiesta Bowl on ESPN (4.594 million). It also struggled head-to-head against Rose Bowl pregame coverage (8.919 million on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU) and had no chance against the game itself (27.685 million on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU).

For the NHL, the main issue with the Winter Classic is that we’ve been asking the same questions about the game for years, and they haven’t been answered. With no game in 2013 thanks to the lockout, the Winter Classic returned in 2014 and scored 4.40 million viewers for a Maple Leafs-Red Wings matchup. Viewership has been in free fall since, declining in all but two seasons since. The 2019 game between the Blackhawks and Bruins ticked up from 2018 to a four-year high, only to crater to a record-low in 2020. 2023’s game between the Penguins and Bruins also increased from 2022, but slid back to this year’s record-low.

Perhaps the most damning note about the Winter Classic comes from Sports Media Watch’s Jon Lewis. He revealed that for the first time ever, the Winter Classic won’t be the NHL’s most-watched regular season game. Back in October, ESPN averaged 1.431 million viewers for a Blackhawks-Penguins game featuring Connor Bedard’s NHL debut, a full 300,000 viewers more than Monday’s Kraken-Golden Knights game.

[Data via Sports Media Watch]

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.