Following the conclusion of the NHL labor dispute, the curiosity of hockey fans shifted from the specifics of a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players to questioning its own reaction to the sport’s return. Would hockey fans come back to the game after the NHL lockout led to the cancellation of almost half of the regular season schedule? Would there be a backlash for the long, drawn out and at times, bitter labor dispute that resulted in foolishly minimal alterations to proposals at the very beginning of negotiations?
Last week, we briefly posited the idea that it was in the Canadian sports media’s best interest to report that hockey fans are back in droves because the livelihood and occupational success of many journalists depend on interest in what’s happening in the NHL. However, any talk of self-serving media conspiracy theories were quickly quashed once the television ratings for the first few games of the season were released.
More than a quarter of Canada’s population watched a portion of the opening night broadcast of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens game – the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference from the previous season - on Hockey Night In Canada. On average, 3.3 million people watched the game. It was record viewership for a regular season game in that time slot. In fact, records were set in all three of the broadcast’s time slots, with an average of 1.49 million viewers for HNIC’s 3 PM ET Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets premiere, and 1.47 million for the Anaheim Ducks and Vancouver Canucks game.