Ratings Roundup: Winter Classic Is Most Watched NHL Regular Season Game in 36 Years

The rain that pushed back the start time of this year’s NHL Winter Classic turned out to be a bona fide blessing in disguise, as the New Years Day faceoff between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins on NBC was the most watched regular season NHL game in 36 years. The game was originally scheduled for 1 p.m. ET, but rain forced the start time into primetime (8-11 p.m. ET), where it drew a total of 4.5 million viewers, up 22% from last year (3.7 million). As a result of the record-setting telecast, four of the five most-watched NHL regular season games since 1975 are now NHL Winter Classics…

…ESPN’s first year of exclusive BCS coverage got off to a solid start on New Years Day, as the Rose Bowl delivered an 11.7 overnight rating, the highest non-NFL overnight on record for any cable network (records date back to 2001). However, TCU’s 21-19 victory over Wisconsin was down significantly from last year’s Rose Bowl (Ohio State-Oregon), which drew a 13.8 overnight rating on ABC. Later that day, ESPN’s Fiesta Bowl coverage (Oklahoma’s 48-20 victory over Connecticut) won the night among all networks with a 6.7 rating, but trailed the 2010 Fiesta Bowl (Boise State-TCU on Fox), which averaged an 8.6. Nonetheless, the Rose Bowl Game (No. 1) and Fiesta Bowl (No. 4) are now two of ESPN’s top four college football overnight ratings on record…

…For the second straight year, ESPN and ESPN2 each posted their most-viewed year ever. ESPN averaged 880,000 homes on a 24-hour basis, up 6% from 2009, the previous record.  ESPN set a new viewership record in all four quarters and finished strong as the fourth quarter registered as its most-viewed quarter in history. ESPN2 averaged 276,000 homes on a total-day basis (up from 275,000), ESPNU nearly doubled its audience from a year ago, and ESPN Deportes was again the most-watched U.S. Spanish-language sports network this year. Overall, ESPN’s six networks combined to average a record 1,282,000 homes on a 24-hour basis in 2010, an increase of 5% over last year.  To top it off, ESPN’s Monday Night Football posted its highest-rated season since moving to ESPN and earned cable’s 16 biggest audiences of 2010 to rank eighth among all television shows in primetime (cable or broadcast)…

…ESPN2’s telecast of Stanford’s win over Connecticut on Dec. 30 was the highest-rated regular season women’s basketball gave ever on the ESPN networks. The game, in which Stanford snapped Connecticut’s record 90-game winning streak, posted a 1.5 overnight rating. This surpasses the previous high of Connecticut-Duke from Feb. 1, 2003 (1.4). The last 15 minutes of the telecast earned a 3.1 rating.

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