NHL started its $1 billion deal with ESPN and Turner Sports – here’s how many people watched the season openers

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Pittsburgh Penguins center Evan Rodrigues (9) has a break away and Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) makes a save during the NHL Hockey match between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins on October 12th, 2021 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL.
Andrew Bershaw | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

The National Hockey League commenced its 2021-22 season on Tuesday. It’s also the first year of its $1 billion media rights package with ESPN and Turner Sports.

The networks said the NHL averaged 884,000 viewers for ESPN’s doubleheader on Tuesday, and Turner drew roughly 669,500 viewers for its Wednesday national slot. Both figures are up from the NHL’s average for its last two season openers.

ESPN’s first game featured the Pittsburgh Penguins beating defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-2. That game averaged 984,000 viewers, on Tuesday, and peaked over one million viewers, according to ESPN, who used metrics from research company Nielsen.

The Disney-owned network added the 2021 contest topped its last highly-rated NHL opener in Oct. 2001 between the Penguins and Colorado Avalanche. That 2001 opener attracted 927,000 viewers.

ESPN also debuted expansion franchise Seattle Kraken who fell to the Las Vegas Golden Knights, 4-3. The game averaged 782,000 viewers and also peaked at over one million viewers. The network said streaming metrics from ESPN+ are not included in the viewership stats.

By comparison, the first game of the NHL’s 2020-21 season-opener averaged 972,000 total viewers on NBC’s sports network. That contest featured the Philadelphia Flyers and Penguins and was the most-watched regular-season game on NBCSN.

Other games from last season’s tripleheader included the Chicago Blackhawks against the Lightning and Avalanche versus St. Louis Blues. The combined telecast averaged 774,000 viewers, up from 600,000 viewers the season prior.

Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals shoots the puck against the New York Rangers during the second period at Capital One Arena on October 13, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Patrick Smith | Getty Images

The NHL ended its 16-year partnership with NBC Sports and reached a $1 billion package with ESPN and Turner Sports last April.

On Wednesday, TNT rolled out its doubleheader national package and included some crossover appeal. The network featured star NBA commentator Charles Barkley in the pregame show of the Washington Capitals’ 5-1 victory over the New York Rangers. The game averaged 817,000 total viewers, and peaked at 920,000 viewers around 9:00 p.m. to 9:15 p.m ET.

In the contest, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin scored twice to move into fifth all-time. Ovechkin, 36, has 732 career goals and needs 163 more to pass Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 894 goals. TNT said it averaged 522,000 total viewers for the second contest featuring the Avalanche beating the Blackhawks, 4-2.

On the advertising front, metrics firm EDO estimated the automotive category led with 15.4% of ad spend for this season’s NHL openers. Restaurants made up 12.9% and insurance had 11.9% of ad spend. EDO added Apple commercials led search engagement. It’s a metric the company uses to measure online search activity for brands in the minutes following TV ads airing.

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