According to the NHL, an average viewership of 8.2 million people across the United States and Canada tuned in for the 2014 Winter Classic. That breaks the previous regular-season record set by the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh, which boasted an average viewership of 6.6 million between the two countries.
NBC's broadcast attracted 4.404 million viewers in the United States, which was the second-largest American audience for an NHL regular-season game in 39 years.
CBC's broadcast in Canada brought in 3.57 million viewers on average, which was the largest Canadian audience for an NHL non-playoff game. It also brought in Hockey Night in Canada's largest audience for an outdoor NHL game. The French-language broadcast on RDS had an audience of 260,000 Canadians as well.
With the large crowd at Michigan Stadium on top of such a huge television audience, the Winter Classic remains one of the NHL's marquee events and is doing an excellent job of drawing interest.
"We knew an NHL Winter Classic at the Big House with the Red Wings-Maple Leafs rivalry would be special, but what unfolded was extraordinary,” NHL COO John Collins said in a league release. “The players, the fans – and the elements – made for a record-setting afternoon. The magnitude and success of the overall NHL Winter Classic experience in both Detroit and Ann Arbor also underscore the continued growth of the NHL as a North American business."
This increased viewership could also be good news for the upcoming Stadium Series games, which will be played outdoors in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. Those TV audiences are unlikely to match the Winter Classic, but the intrigue of an outdoor game should bring in some nice numbers for some unique regular-season games on the NHL schedule.
The fear is that more outdoor games would dilute the specialness of the Winter Classic, and that may end up being true. One thing that is for sure, the Winter Classic, amid all the bowl games and other sporting events to compete with, has become a marquee event and part of many sports fans' New Year's Day now.