NHL, NBA restart play to strong US audiences

Both the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association returned to play after delays of more than four months due to the Covid-19 pandemic and generated strong ratings among American television audiences.

The NHL, whose Canadian-based restart plan formally began August 1, saw a prime time qualifier match up that day between the Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins generate a total audience delivery of 1.57 million viewers for NBC Sports across all platforms.

The total represented a 46-per-cent jump over the network’s pre-pandemic average for NHL games in the 2019-20 season, and the most-watched game of the season with the exception of the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.

The match-up was also NBC Sports’ most-watched NHL game involving a Canadian team with the exception of Winter Classics and traditional playoff games.

As planned, the network’s coverage included a series of technological innovations that sought to take advantage of games being stage in Edmonton and Toronto without attending fans.

The NBA’s restart opening game of the Los Angeles Lakers versus the Los Angeles Clippers on July 30, meanwhile, generated an average of 3.4 million viewers in the United States on TNT. The figure for the game, also used for seeding purposes for the upcoming playoffs, more than doubled the season average on the network for regular-season games, and was its TNT’s highest-rated NBA game since the October 22 season opener, also involving the Lakers and Clippers.

TNT’s acclaimed NBA studio show, Inside The NBA, meanwhile posted an average of 1.3 million viewers, its best viewership since the opening week of the 2018-19 NBA season. Overall, the network’s NBA doubleheader that also included a match-up between the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans averaged 2.9 million viewers.

“This is a good start. This is a good start tonight,” said Lakers superstar LeBron James on TNT after the game. “It’s great to have the NBA back, and I hope our fans are proud of us tonight.”

Bleacher Report, a sister digital entity to TNT under the Turner corporate umbrella, posted 8.2 million viewers on July 30, representing its highest traffic since April.

The bullish numbers follow many other leagues that also have seen strong audience reception upon their returns from virus-imposed delays, including Major League Baseball, Nascar, and the National Women’s Soccer League, among others. The National Football League also generated a record-level audience for its Draft in the spring.