Coming off the most-watched opening rounds in years, the Colorado Avalanche and the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning could continue that viewership upswing as the Stanley Cup Final begins Wednesday night.
Through the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the games broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2 have averaged 1.2 million viewers, a 30% increase over the same stretch a year ago on cable and broadcast TV.
- The opening-round series between the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins broadcast on TNT and TBS was the most-watched first round on cable on record.
- Boosted by the resurgent Rangers (and their major-market fans), the Eastern Conference Final was the most watched since 2013 with 2.4 million average viewers.
- The series that the Lightning secured in six games averaged 82% more viewers than last year’s ECF.
- While the Western Conference Final was a bit of a dud as the Avs swept the Oilers, the series still drew in the largest cable audience of any WCF since 2015 with an average of 1.8 million viewers.
Disney will broadcast its first Final since 2004, which coincidentally also featured the Lightning. A work stoppage wiped out the following season, and ABC/ESPN gave, at best, a token effort to keep the NHL as replacement programming like the trivia show “Stump The Schwab” and “Bowling Night” drew similar ratings as games.
But after a 16-year run on NBC Sports Network and other Comcast-owned channels, ESPN got back into the NHL game by acquiring the top-tier broadcast and streaming rights for $400 million. Turner Sports acquired the “B” programming package for $225 million.
The first year of the NHL’s seven-season deals with ESPN and Turner Sports has been successful so far.
Live game coverage of regular-season NHL games on TNT saw viewership gains of 29% compared to the 2020-21 season on cable. Women’s viewership on NHL on TNT increased 56% compared to the prior season on cable.
TNT will broadcast next year’s Stanley Cup Final as Turner Sports has the Final rights in odd-numbered years.