Would Americans wake up early on a Saturday morning to watch a hockey game? Well, when that game happens to feature the U.S. and Russia at the Olympics, the answer is a resounding yes. NBC Sports Network drew an average audience of 4.1 million viewers for Team USA's 3-2 shootout win over host Russia. It is the most watched hockey game in the network's history, beating out Game 3 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
According to NBC Sports, viewership peaked at 6.4 million viewers from 10 to 10:30 a.m. ET to watch overtime and the T.J. Oshie shootout extravaganza. It was the most watched half hour ever on NBC Sports Network.
This might be a tough pill to swallow for shootout antagonists, but there's no doubt that was some great television and a rather large audience tuned into the drama.
The amount of reaction videos from bars and living rooms across the country that hit YouTube was a great indication the public was hanging by a thread during Oshie's star turn as a shootout hero. Now we know just how big the following really was.
The fact that this was all happening between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. ET when many folks would rather sleep in is impressive, too. This was a destination television event for not just hockey fans, but American sports fans in general.
The game's average viewership fell just shy of the 2014 Winter Classic, which drew 4.4 million viewers on average in the U.S. Who knows what it would have looked like if the USA-Russia game was played a little later in the day. Or better yet, what if it was available live in primetime?
The time difference hurts, but it clearly didn't hurt that badly.
Olympic hockey is exciting to the U.S. television audience and if the NHL can find a way to get more of those folks to stick around and tune in to the league, they'll be a lot better for it.
The future of NHL participation at the Olympics remains cloudy, however, and this probably doesn't change that. But a lot of Americans didn't know who T.J. Oshie was before Saturday and now he's the talk of the sporting world. Something like that can't be bad for business, right?