Pittsburgh Penguins center Evan Rodrigues (9) escapes and Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) makes a save during the NHL hockey game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins on October 12, 2021 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.
Andrew Bershaw | Sportswire icon | Getty Images
The National Hockey League kicked off its 2021-22 season on Tuesday. It’s also the first year of its billion-dollar media rights package with ESPN and Turner Sports.
The networks said the NHL averaged 884,000 viewers for ESPN’s doubles program on Tuesday, and Turner drew about 669,500 viewers for its national slot on Wednesday. Both numbers are up from the NHL average for its last two opening games of the season.
In ESPN’s opener, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning 6-2. The game averaged 984,000 viewers on Tuesday and peaked at over one million viewers, according to ESPN, which used metrics from research firm Nielsen.
The Disney-owned network added that the 2021 contest dominated its popular last NHL opener in October 2001 between the Penguins and the Colorado Avalanche. This first game of 2001 attracted 927,000 viewers.
ESPN also debuted in the expansion Seattle Kraken franchise which fell to the Las Vegas Golden Knights, 4-3. The game averaged 782,000 viewers and also peaked at over one million viewers. The network said ESPN + streaming metrics are not included in audience statistics.
By comparison, the opening game of the 2020-21 NHL season opener averaged 972,000 total viewers on NBC’s sports network. This contest featured the Philadelphia Flyers and Penguins and was the most watched regular season game on NBCSN.
Other games in last season’s triple schedule included the Chicago Blackhawks against the Lightning and the Avalanche against the St. Louis Blues. Combined television broadcasting attracted an average of 774,000 viewers, up from 600,000 viewers the previous season.
Alex Ovechkin # 8 of the Washington Capitals shoots the puck against the New York Rangers during the second period at Capital One Arena on October 13, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Patrick Smith | Getty Images
The NHL ended its 16-year partnership with NBC Sports and reached $ 1 billion with ESPN and Turner Sports last April.
TNT rolled out its national double-header package on Wednesday and included a cross-appeal. The network featured NBA star commentator Charles Barkley on the pre-game show of the Washington Capitals’ 5-1 win over the New York Rangers. The game averaged 817,000 total viewers and peaked at 920,000 viewers around 9:00 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. ET.
In the competition, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin scored twice to reach fifth place all-time. Ovechkin, 36, has 732 career goals and needs 163 more to beat Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 NHL goals. TNT said it averaged 522,000 total viewers for Game 2 featuring the Avalanche beating the Blackhawks, 4-2.
On the advertising front, measurement company EDO estimated the automotive category to lead with 15.4% of ad spend for the first NHL games this season. Restaurants accounted for 12.9% and insurance 11.9% of advertising spending. EDO added the search engagement conducted by Apple Ads. It’s a metric the company uses to measure brands’ online search activity within minutes of TV commercials appearing.