Intense sunshine and deteriorating ice conditions effectively robbed the NHL of some one million TV impressions, as Saturday’s outdoor game in Lake Tahoe couldn’t hold up under the strain of an eight-hour delay.
According to Nielsen data, NBC’s broadcast of the first period of the Colorado Avalanche-Las Vegas Golden Knights game averaged 1.36 million viewers and a 0.8 household rating before the bright winter sun turned the makeshift rink into a giant Slush Puppie. Play was halted at 12:55 p.m. PT, and by the time the ice was fit to play on again, it was two minutes past midnight on the East Coast and the action had shifted from NBC to its cable sibling NBCSN.
The remaining two periods averaged 361,000 viewers, or 995,000 fewer fans than were tuned in when the puck dropped the previous afternoon. The Avalanche won 3-2.
While it’s not possible to extrapolate how NBC’s broadcast would have fared if the sun hadn’t wrecked the ice, the first period numbers were much higher than the 1.02 million viewers who tuned in for the analogous Stadium Series broadcast from Colorado Springs in February 2020. That said, the impact of the delay was apparent almost immediately; about a half-hour after the players left the ice, some 364,000 viewers had clicked their way to other diversions.
The Lake Tahoe game effectively served as a make-good for the pandemic-scuttled Winter Classic and Stadium Series outdoor events, and while the elements may not have cooperated, the majesty of the surroundings made for an indelible viewing experience. The rink was erected on the 18th fairway of the Edgewood Tahoe Resort golf course, just a few paces from the south shore of the lake, which is itself cradled by the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
But as anyone who’s ever skated on a frozen lake or pond can tell you, the desire to play a hockey game while surrounded by the natural beauty of the great outdoors will always come at a cost.
“We’ve done over 30 outdoor games … and this has been the most difficult weather circumstance we’ve had,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told NBC during Saturday’s delay. “We’ve played in some rain, we’ve played in snow, but sunshine has always been our enemy.”
Since the first Winter Classic was staged back on Jan. 1, 2008, the outdoor games have become some of the most anticipated events on the NHL calendar. The last five New Year’s Day broadcasts averaged 2.55 million viewers on NBC, with the biggest draw among them being the 2019 Blackhawks-Bruins clash held at Notre Dame Stadium (2.97 million). As is generally the case, the NHL tends to notch its highest ratings whenever two of the Original Six teams square off.