The Cup final opens at the highest after the break, in previous years

The Stanley Cup Final opened with the biggest NHL audience since returning from the break, but comparisons to previous years aren’t quite as favourable.

Game 1 of Wednesday’s Lightning-Avalanche Stanley Cup Final averaged 2.2 and 4.2 million viewers on ABC, up 175% in ratings and 161% in viewership of Canadiens-Lightning on NBCSN last year (0.8, 1.61M), but down 24% and 20% respectively from the Blues-Bruins on NBC on Memorial Day 2019, the year before, the playoffs took place normally (2.9, 5.25 million). The 6 part of the game corresponded to 2019.

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

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

Game 1 had an average rating of 1.3 among adults 18-49, 1.1 among 18-34, and 1.6 among 25-54. Excluding NBA games, it was the best TV schedule in 18-49 and 25-54 since NBC’s “This is Us” series finale last month (1.3; 1.8) and the best 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 share of 13 in the demo marked a 63% jump from ’19 (8).

In addition to winning Wednesday night in major demographics, it was also the most-watched show of the evening. It ranked second in household rankings behind a CBS special “Price is Right” (2.5).

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

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

Daniel C. Williams