NBC, NHL Post Record Winter Classic TV Audience Despite Rain Delay

Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Poor hockey weather doesn't stop viewers tuning into NBC Saturday night NHL game in record numbers.

TORONTO – A lack of winter left the hockey less than classic, but NBC’s New Year’s Day outdoor game Saturday night managed to pull in the viewers.

The National Hockey League on Monday said the 2011 Winter Classic game saw NBC secure an average 4.5 million viewers for a rain-plagued Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capital match-up from Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field.

That audience was 22% higher than the 3.7 million viewers that tuned in to last year’s Winter Classic game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins played in Boston’s Fenway Park, and just ahead of the 4.4 million average viewers that tuned into the 2009 game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks, also on NBC.

Rain forced NHL’s latest winter showcase to be delayed Saturday from a 1 p.m. to an 8 p.m. start on NBC stateside, and on the CBC in Canada.

Despite the disruption, the NHL said the latest Winter Classic game was the most-viewed regular season league game on U.S. TV in 36 years.