The oft-disparaged National Hockey League has struck gold in its experiment with outdoor games. And though all the matchups have seen a surge in television ratings, the highlight was something other leagues have managed to capitalize on for years: the Subway Series.
Or more accurately in this case, the Port Authority Series, as Sunday afternoon's matchup between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils drew a big audience. The game, held in Yankee Stadium and broadcast nationally on NBC, averaged 2.079 million viewers and a 1.33 rating among households -- an all-time high for a regular season hockey game on NBC. Ratings for last night's game between the Rangers and the New York Islanders won't be available until later today. Both games drew sellout crowds in the Bronx, despite below-freezing temperatures.
It's somewhat notable that New York's relatively blue-collar Blueshirts could outdraw the city's most famous franchise in its own house, as the New York Yankees' attendance has steadily declined over the last three years, with a 7.4 percent drop in 2013. But just as Major League Baseball found when it introduced interleague play in 1997, beginning an annual Subway Series between the Yankees and the New York Mets, local rivalries are usually a recipe for success. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is well-aware of this: "That's why we had to have two games," he said on featuring the Rangers twice in the Bronx.
It's also interesting to compare the makeup of the local population with the average NHL fan. Yankee Stadium is in the country's poorest congressional district, which has a minority-majority population. Sports Media Watch recently reported that the NHL boasts the most affluent and least diverse television audience in the country. Perhaps the success of Sunday's and Wednesday's games could create inroads to new fans, building on the league's programs such as Ice Hockey in Harlem.
Despite the weather, a lackluster first period and a discomfiting performance by CeeLo Green, the second installment of the Stadium Series at Yankee Stadium was every bit of entertainment and spectacle that have characterized outdoor hockey in recent years, complete with an audience evenly split between the two teams and fireworks to match the explosive atmosphere. This week may be all about the Super Bowl, but at Yankee Stadium, the NHL proved that the National Football League isn't the only one that can put on a show.
(Kavitha A. Davidson is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about sports. Follow her on Twitter at @kavithadavidson.)
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