The hype around Chicago Blackhawks forward Connor Bedard manifested itself in TV viewership on Tuesday and Wednesday, when both ESPN and TNT set record numbers. Here’s what you need to know:
- ESPN’s broadcast of the Blackhawks’ season-opening win over the Pittsburgh Penguins averaged 1.43 million viewers, becoming the network’s most-viewed regular-season NHL game.
- The Blackhawks-Penguins game pittted two No. 1 picks against each other, when 18-year-old Bedard took on 36-year-old Sidney Crosby.
- The Blackhawks’ loss to the Boston Bruins one day later averaged 917,000 total viewers on TNT. It is the second-largest recorded viewership of a regular-season game on the network, with the first being the 2022 Winter Classic, which drew 1.362 million viewers and set the record for the most-watched cable NHL regular-season game.
Numbers larger than expected
We all knew Bedard was going to be a big draw out of the gate, but this feels even larger than expected. But, I guess, nothing is quickly becoming surprising with the 18-year-old phenom. As many, many, many people are finding out, he’s the real deal on the ice. Through two games with the Blackhawks, he has one goal and one assist. That only tells part of the story, of course.
He’s already attempted 18 shots with 11 being on net. He could easily have had a few more goals and assists. Those points will soon add up as he adjusts to the NHL level. Beyond that, it’s about how he plays. The shot, the vision, the playmaking, his whole game is so unique. Those viewership numbers were largely based on the intrigue factor, and I bet most people weren’t disappointed. — Scott Powers, senior Blackhawks writer
What this does for Chicago
For the Blackhawks, this is going to put them back on the national radar. They were the league’s darling for a number of years while they won three Stanley Cups in six years and were picked to appear often on national television and play in the league’s biggest events. Those invitations have been fewer and fewer in recent years, but Bedard will undoubtedly change that.
The league has to know what sort of opportunity it has to cash in with Bedard with new and old hockey fans. — Powers
A phenomenal gift to the league
The NHL isn’t going to crow about this publicly but Bedard landing in Chicago was a phenomenal gift to the league as a viewership play. Chicago drove league viewership in the 2010s and the 2013 Stanley Cup Final between Chicago and Boston averaged 5.76 million viewers, the best average for a Stanley Cup Final since 1995.
While the NHL at its core is a regional sport, Boston and Pittsburgh are very attractive teams (the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers would also fit here) when it comes to drawing viewership for national games.
The league and its media partners wanted to feature Bedard early — and the best way to assure a big viewership pop was to find attractive opponents for what might be a generational player. Mission accomplished. — Richard Deitsch, senior sports media writer
(Photo: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)