Bourque factor ups numbers in Beantown

ABC’s coverage of the seventh and deciding game of hockey’s Stanley Cup Finals on Saturday delivered the largest U.S. audience on record for an NHL game, although the league’s ratings remain well behind other pro team sports.

Saturday’s Cup-clinching victory by the Colorado Avalanche over the New Jersey Devils averaged 6.95 million viewers from 8-11:31 p.m. EDT, a slightly larger crowd than the final game last season (6.55 million) and the largest for any NHL contest in the States since Nielsen began tracking total viewers in 1987.

Game did a boffo 37.6/65 household rating in the Avalanche’s hometown of Denver and a strong 14.1/27 in Boston, where fans were rooting for Avalanche player Ray Bourque, a 20-year Bruin favorite who won his first championship.

Hockey still has a way to go to approach the other pro team sports: NBA’s Finals is averaging 19.2 million viewers a game, baseball’s World Series averaged 18.1 million last October, and football’s Super Bowl is annually the year’s most-watched telecast (this year averaging 84.3 million viewers).

But working from its smaller base, ABC was able to show year-to-year ratings growth among the youngest of adults. In adults 18-34, net’s five Cup games averaged a 2.5 rating (up 4%), while in men 18-24 the growth was a hearty 26% (2.4 vs. 1.9) — an encouraging sign for a sport looking for new fans.

This was the second of a five-year NHL deal for ABC and sister cabler ESPN, which shelled out $600 million for exclusive U.S. playoff rights.

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