When the lockout ended on January 6, there were many questions on whether the fans would flock back to the game, or stay away for a while to teach the owners and players a lesson. Judging by the first weekend, they’re back and in a big way.
In the arenas, the fans returned in droves as 11 out of the 13 games were played to sold out crowds. Places such as Dallas and Long Island, who for years have played to half empty buildings, were filled to the brim for the return of the NHL.
Then there’s the TV ratings. If CBC had any fear of fan backlash resulting in low ratings, those fears were vanquished quickly. The prime time matchup between Toronto and Montreal drew 3.3 million viewers, a record amount for the venerable institution known as Hockey Night In Canada. The afternoon tilt between Ottawa and Winnipeg drew 1.5 million viewers, a new all-time high for afternoon games. The late game between Anaheim and Vancouver drew a solid 1.4 million viewers. Overall this was a huge night for CBC.
NBC also pulled in good numbers for their opening day. The peacock network split their coverage on opening day between Chicago vs Los Angeles and Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia with a 2.0 rating, the highest rating for a regular season game that wasn’t the Winter Classic.
In other words, the fans came back in droves for hockey. They missed it. The threat of boycotts and backlash was just white noise. The fans simply can’t resist the sport. The game will survive and even flourish is some markets. Which means, the owners were right all along. They knew during the lockout the fans would come back. Just like they did in 2005.
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