Word late this week arrived of just what all this stylized winning by Washington’s hockey team translates to: Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic delivered the highest-rated Washington Capitals game in network history for its coverage of the team’s game in Montreal on Wednesday night. The game earned an average household rating of 5.8 in the Washington market and was viewed by an average combined audience of 148,000 households in Washington and Baltimore. The record household rating broke the network’s previous Capitals high of 5.5, set on May 13, 2009 during the Stanley Cup Semifinals against Pittsburgh (Game 7).
Wednesday night’s game bettered game 7′s TV numbers against Sidney Crosby’s Penguins of last May. Wow. Just wow.
The game earned a peak household rating of 7.0, which equates to more than 163,000 Washington-area households, and was the most-watched television program in the all-important demographic group of men aged 25-54, posting a regular-season Capitals record 7.0 average rating.
Now get this: in addition to setting a new all-time hockey ratings record this week, Comcast SportsNet has now delivered the five highest-rated regular-season Capitals games in network history just since January 21 of this year.
The Capitals on Comcast have enjoyed an increase of 41 percent in viewership numbers compared to the same time period last season, and a growth of more than 175 percent versus the first 55 games of the 2007-08 season.
The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg I think has it wrong to deflect away the popularity strides the Caps have made on TV this season by juxtaposing them with viewer numbers for the Wizards. Comparatively speaking, basketball is a ridiculously easy sport to produce for a television outlet — 90 rectangular feet of playing surface versus 200 feet of encased ice, with play on ice moving at 30-plus miles an hour, for instance — but even more basically, D.C. has been a hotbed of a breeding ground for hoops for generations. Every school in the region can affordably organize a basketball team; that’s partly why its participation numbers also have been so strong for so long. Attachments to a sport formed from participation are vital.
How many basketball courts does the region have? How many ice rinks? What are the youth participation rates across the region for the two sports? (More interestingly, what are the trending numbers there?) That the two sports are now on levelized TV terms is nothing short of staggering.
Two things I think are going on: Washington sports fans to some degree are tired of generational lousiness on the hardwood, and concurrently they’re falling hard for the enticing, very winning hockey team. Subsequently, more kids are playing hockey locally; subsequently, more families are forming an allegiance to it.
The Capitals’ record-smashing winning streak surely inflated interest among the region’s sports fans in following the team. The interesting question going forward is how many of local newcomers to the broadcasts, seeing Ovi and his teammates’ late-game gumption and high-flying style, left the experience indifferent to it, unlikely to return? That answer I think lies at the heart of understanding how a February, midweek regular season hockey game could seriously outperform a Stanley Cup playoff game 7, against a longstanding rival.