NHL’s Winter Classic Disappoints


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FOXBORO, MA – JANUARY 01: A general view as Montreal Canadiens fans celebrate after the first goal in the first period against the Boston Bruins during the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium on January 1, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Hockey’s Winter Classic, the NHL’s premier outdoor game of the year, suffered its lowest viewership since 2008, as the Boston Bruins battled the rival Montreal Canadiens at Gillette Stadium Friday.

The Winter Classic was designed for two NHL teams to brave the outdoors  on New Year’s Day. Drawing raucous crowds, the matchup has always been the most watched regular season game of the season, and this year’s contest looked to be no different; two fierce rivals fighting to earn the number one spot in the Atlantic Division, not a game to miss…right?

Much to the league’s disappointment, only 2.78 million viewers tuned in to watch the Winter Classic, the lowest number in the event’s eight year history. By comparison, an average 4 million viewers were recorded for the seven prior games.

So what happened? Low viewership can be explained by these three factors.

  1. Competition with Bowl Games: Fans were forced to choose between hockey and football. Two big, college football bowl games, Notre Dame vs. Ohio State, and Florida vs Michigan, drew casual viewers away from the Winter Classic.
  2. Blowout: The Canadiens 5-1 victory was decided early on, depriving fans of an exciting down-to-the-wire game.
  3. Canada: Because NBC Sports does not broadcast north of the border, Canadians could not watch the game through the popular network. This undoubtedly limited ratings.

However, these factors may not reveal the whole story; Winter Classic viewership has declined from 4.4 million in 2014 to 3.5 million in 2015, and now to 2.8 million. Either way, the NHL has 12 months to prepare for a rebound next year.