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2011 Winter Classic most watched regular season game in 36 years

Jan 3, 2011, 12:01 PM EDT

Winter Classic Hockey AP

Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin wasn’t kidding when he said how exciting it was to play in front of millions of hockey fans.

Over the last four years, the Winter Classic proved that it could work in baseball parks such as Wrigley Field and football stadiums such as Heinz Field. Due to some rain-based intervention, Saturday’s event was delayed from the afternoon to prime time. Instead of seeing ratings that plummeted because of this unplanned alteration, Saturday’s Washington Capitals-Pittsburgh Penguins game instead proved that outdoor hockey can be a ratings success in that coveted time slot.

The 2011 Winter Classic had 4.5 million viewers, the highest number to date for the annual event. The number beat out the 4.4 million viewers the 2009 Winter Classic from Chicago’s Wrigley Field had and was up 22% from the 2010 Winter Classic in Boston. The game was also the most watched regular season game in 36 years.

Maybe it was the high-end star power that comes with featuring Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin. Perhaps it had a lot to do with the amazing buildup created by various promotions including HBO’s outstanding 24/7 series. Then again, it could also have been the natural progression of the league’s progress combined with the improving Winter Classic brand.

Whatever the case may be, the ratings were fantastic for the Winter Classic.

As for how the game did around the country, obviously Pittsburgh and Washington tuned in in big ways, but other cities across the country also tuned in in big ways. Here’s the top 10 cities in ratings and shares for this year’s event in Pittsburgh.

1. Pittsburgh, 32.0/46

2. Washington D.C., 7.6/13

3. Baltimore, 6.6/11

4. Buffalo, 5.3/8

T5. St. Louis, 4.3/7

T5. Denver, 4.3/7

7. Boston, 4.0/7

8. Richmond, 3.8/6

9. Philadelphia, 3.5/6

10. Columbus, 3.4/6

Getting such a huge rating out of Pittsburgh is incredible. While it dwarfs the numbers seen out of Washington, D.C. keep in mind that Maryland and Virginia are also Caps country which is why you see Baltimore third and Richmond eighth on this list. All around, the success of this year’s event is tremendous. With over 68,000 fans at Heinz Field and the TV ratings and viewership being at new highs it’s clear that the NHL has a winning product on its hands.

  1. quizguy66 - Jan 3, 2011 at 3:46 PM

    Do you have the comparable number for the awful bowl match-up of UConn VS Oklahoma. Seems clear that the NHL held its own there but am interested in the comparison. Thx. Keep up the good work, btw. Don’t confuse a lack comments with a disinterested populace – I enjoy the site a great deal.

    -QG

  2. quizguy66 - Jan 3, 2011 at 3:46 PM

    Do you have the comparable number for the awful bowl match-up of UConn VS Oklahoma. Seems clear that the NHL held its own there but am interested in the comparison. Thx. Keep up the good work, btw. Don’t aconfuse a lack comments with a disinterested populace – I enjoy the site a great deal.

    -QG

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