Cup Final opens at post-hiatus high, trails prior years

Cup Final opens at post-hiatus high, trails prior years

The Stanley Cup Final opened with the NHL’s largest audience since returning from hiatus, but comparisons to prior years are not as favorable.

Wednesday’s Lightning-Avalanche Stanley Cup Final Game 1 averaged a 2.2 rating and 4.2 million viewers on ABC, up 175% in ratings and 161% in viewership from Canadiens-Lightning on NBCSN last year (0.8, 1.61M) but down 24% and 20 % respectively from Blues-Bruins on NBC on Memorial Day 2019, the previous year the postseason was conducted as normal (2.9, 5.25M). The game’s 6 share matched 2019.

Colorado’s overtime win, which peaked with 4.7 million viewers, ranks as the most-watched NHL game since the league returned from hiatus nearly two years ago. The previous mark was 3.56 million for last year’s Cup clincher. Take out the past two years — when the playoffs were contested in a fanless “bubble” and then in an altered divisional format — and it ranks as the least-watched Cup Final opener since 2016 (Sharks-Penguins: 4.08M) and second- least watched in the past decade (2012 Kings-Devils: 2.90M).

Overall, Game 1 ranks a middle-of-the-road tenth out of the past 20 Cup Final openers dating back to 2002. (The last time ESPN/ABC aired the Stanley Cup Final, Game 1 of Flames-Lightning aired on ESPN and averaged 1.37 million.)

Game 1 averaged a 1.3 rating in adults 18-49, a 1.1 in 18-34 and a 1.6 in 25-54. Excluding NBA games, it was television’s top program in 18-49 and 25-54 since the series finale of NBC’s “This is Us” last month (1.3; 1.8) and the top program in 18-34 since the Kentucky Derby (1.7) .

Outside of the past two years, the 1.3 in 18-49 is the lowest for a Game 1 since 2012 (1.1) and down 19% from 2019 (1.6) — but the 13 share in the demo marked a 63% jump over ’19 (8).

In addition to winning Wednesday night in the key demographics, it was also the night’s most-watched program. It ranked second in household ratings behind a CBS “Price is Right” special (2.5).

The Cup Final marks the return of NHL games to broadcast television after a two-month layoff. While the first three rounds of the postseason were the most-watched ever on cable, viewership declined slightly from 2019 owing to the lack of broadcast network games.

[Nielsen estimates from Programming Insider 6.16, ShowBuzz Daily 6.16, network PR]

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