The 2024 edition of the National Hockey League (NHL) Winter Classic, the ice hockey league’s annual winter-time outdoor stadium game, has become the least viewed edition in the series’ history.
The game, broadcast across the Warner Bros. Discovery-owned sports network TNT and its sister basic cable channel truTV, attracted a combined average of 1.1 million viewers, its lowest ever.
It falls far below the previous low average of 1.36 million viewers in 2022, and marks the fourth consecutive edition that has drawn fewer than 2 million viewers.
Besides 2022, no other edition has drawn less than the 1.78 million of 2023’s edition, marking a consistent slump for one of the league’s prestige events.
One potential reason for this year’s particularly poor showing is the fact that the game clashed with college American football’s playoff semi-finals, and in particular the 2024 new year’s day Rose Bowl college football game.
The Rose Bowl, which averaged 27.2 million viewers on Disney-owned ESPN, became the most-watched non-National Football League sporting event in the US since the 2018 Winter Olympic opening ceremony.
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It spells bad news for the annual ice hockey game, usually held on or around new year’s day, as three college football quarter-final games will be held on the date from 2025 onwards, one of which will be a Rose Bowl matchup, casting future Winter Classic viewership into doubt.
Despite the fall in viewership over the past few years for the annual game, which drew a high of 4.5 million viewers in 2011, and as many as 2.97 million in 2019, is usually the most-watched regular-season NHL game of the year as the league prioritizes its most popular or successful teams for the slot.
This year, however, will be the first since the Winter Classic’s inauguration in 2008 that it will not end up as the league’s most-watched regular season game, as the opening night encounter between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins drew 1.43 million viewers.
Despite this, NHL broadcasts on TNT have average 17% higher viewership year-on-year (YoY) than in the previous season, with a 24% YoY increase in the target male 18-34 demographic.
TNT is one of two rights holders for the league in the US, alongside Disney’s ESPN and ABC, as part of a seven-year deal agreed in 2021. The league had previously been broadcast on long-time network partner NBC, a more popular network than TNT which may also go some way to explaining declining viewership.