One important goal of the executive suits at the National Hockey League's corporate headquarters in New York City is to rebuild and grow its audience for their games on national television in the United States. There's no bigger cheerleader in this regard than commissioner Gary Bettman. And why not? His job is to increase popularity of the sport around the country, increase its financial footing and most of all, oversee the improvement the product itself.
Many observers whether it is the fans, the media or both, they may view this year's Stanley Cup Finals as a dream matchup of sorts, pitting two teams that have lots of firepower, plenty of marquee value and reside in two traditional sports towns. The Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins provide plenty of those elements for this championship series.
Saturday night's Game 1 at Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit drew the largest cable audience in the United States since 2002, according to Mike Reynolds of Multichannel News. And with that, it was the highest rated NHL game shown on Versus, the current American cable national television home of the league.
The series opener posted a 1.8 household rating and reeled in nearly 2.32 million viewers on Versus, Nielsen Media Research data shows.
Versus' 1.8 household rating for Game 1 surpassed the network's recent all-time high of 1.7 for the Penguins' 4-2 Game 2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals. However, that game and not Saturday's Stanley Cup Finals opener drew the largest audience ever for Versus with May 11th's 2.35 million viewers.
At the local level, predictably the two host cities of the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals ended up with the highest household ratings as Pittsburgh had a 19.0 rating for Game 1 while Detroit had an 8.4 mark.
With all three local teams in action and each playing in their home venues on Saturday night, the Red Wings' television audience might have been reduced a bit to what they potentially could've brought in. Just blocks away over at Comerica Park, the Detroit Tigers played the Minnesota Twins. Plus, the Detroit Pistons hosted Game 3 of their NBA's Eastern Conference Finals series against the Boston Celtics at the Palace of Auburn Hills, 27.7 miles northwest of downtown Detroit. So the competition was high for southeastern Michigan viewers to watch all the local teams (except the NFL's Detroit Lions who are in their offseason) on the same night.
How many tune in for Game 2 tonight for Versus' final cablecast of the season and then for the rest of the series to be shown on NBC remains to be seen, but if Game 1 is any indication, it is something for the NHL to build on in having fans tune in more regularly and in greater numbers.