Sunday’s gold medal hockey game between the USA and Canada drew the sport’s largest aud in 30 years, capping a strong Winter Olympics for NBC.
The afternoon overtime contest, in which Canada prevailed on its home ice, averaged more than 27 million viewers — about 10 million more than when the same countries met for the gold eight years ago in Salt Lake City. While still a fraction of what the Super Bowl drew last month on CBS, it’s a larger audience than most nights of primetime Olympics action from Vancouver on NBC and topped many major sporting events of the past year, including the Rose Bowl, the World Series and the NBA Finals.
NBC’s Olympics momentum carried over into primetime Sunday, where the Closing Ceremonies came in well above Torino four years ago, and new unscripted skein “The Marriage Ref” generated good sampling with a special half-hour preview seg. Still, “Ref” came in a bit below hot CBS rookie “Undercover Boss,” which continues to impress and was the night’s top entertainment series.
Looking at the hockey game, Nielsen estimates that an average aud of 27.6 million tuned in from 3:20 to 6:13 p.m. ET, peaking at 34.8 million from 5:30 to 6 p.m. ET, when the USA’s Zach Parise sent the game into overtime with the tying goal with just 24 seconds left in regulation. Canada’s Sydney Crosby then gave Canada the gold medal, their 14th of the Winter Games (most of any country), when he scored about seven minutes into overtime.
No hockey game in the U.S. has drawn a larger aud since the USA-Finland gold medal game in the 1980 Lake Placid Games averaged 32.8 million. Two days earlier, the USA-Russia “Miracle on Ice” game (shown by ABC here on a tape delay) had drawn 34.2 million.
The 2002 USA-Canada gold medal game on NBC averaged 17.1 million.
Boosting the numbers this time around was the fact that USA had shocked Canada in an early-round game the previous week, setting up a rematch between the underdog Americans and host-nation Canadians, for whom hockey is a passion.
The largest aud in the last 30 years for a National Hockey League game came last June when roughly 8 million watched as Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup. NBC is hopeful that the huge interest in hockey at the Olympics can translate into bigger numbers for the NHL; every player on both the U.S. and Canadian Olympic team rosters plays in the league.
Among local markets, the hockey game scored best in Buffalo (32.6 household rating/51 share), followed by Pittsburgh (31.9/50), Detroit (26.9/47), Minnesota (26.4/53) and Milwaukee (24.5/43).
The Closing Ceremonies, meanwhile, averaged 21.4 million viewers from 8 to 10:30 p.m., a big 45% improvement over the 14.8 million that tuned in on the final night from Torino. For its 17 nights of coverage, NBC drew 24.4 million viewers on average, 21% higher than Torino (20.2 million).
Top local-market averages for the 17 nights came from Salt Lake City (21.9/36), followed by Denver (21.3/35), Milwaukee (21.0/33), Seattle (19.6/36) and Minneapolis (19.1/32).
Nielsen estimates that 190 million Americans watched at least some of the Olympics on the networks of NBC Universal, up from 184 million for Torino in 2006 and 187 million for Salt Lake City in 2002.
And NBC reported Monday that its website NBCOlympics.com attracted 46 million total unique users over the 17 days from Vancouver, nearly 3 1/2 times more than the 13.3 million it drew during the Torino Games.
Following Olympics coverage at 10:30 p.m., “The Marriage Ref” averaged a 4.8 rating/13 share in adults 18-49 and 14.5 million viewers overall for NBC, beating the combined demo score of competing dramas “Brothers & Sisters” on ABC and “Cold Case” on CBS (4.8 to 4.7).
By airing a preview following the Olympics, NBC was able to recruit a different lead-in audience (older and more female) than it will during the show’s regular 10 p.m. Thursday slot, where it bows this week behind the younger, more male comedy “The Office.”
At CBS on Sunday, “Undercover Boss” (prelim 5.0/12 in 18-49, 15.1 million viewers overall) was up week to week and again easily beat ABC’s competing “Desperate Housewives” (prelim 3.6/9 in 18-49, 10.8 million). In its second half-hour, “Boss” bested the Olympics head to head in 18-49 (5.6/13 to 4.8/12).