National Hockey League (NHL) Commissioner Gary Bettman announces the end of labour negotiations between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) in New York, January 9, 2013. (REUTERS)
Gary Bettman is “grateful” hockey fans have decided not to abandon the NHL.
In fact, based on early ratings, the reverse has happened.
"We could be hopeful all we wanted, but we didn't take anything for granted,” the commissioner told the Sporting News this week.
Commenting on soaring TV numbers across North America, Bettman praised embattled local markets for reaching out to disgruntled fans following the NHL’s second lockout in less than 10 years.
If numbers are any indication of the league’s current level of interest, the 113-day work stoppage seems to have had little impact.
According to NBC Sports, three markets – Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Chicago – saw their best-ever ratings for a non-Winter Classic regular-season game last week. The station also noted a 32% increase in viewership over last year’s opening weekend.
Rather unsurprisingly, Canadian ratings were up as well.
"We took out ads in every market nationally in Canada and the U.S.,” Bettman said. “We thought it was more important initially that all of our efforts be focused on backstopping the clubs as they reached out."
The league received a similar lift following the 2004-05 lockout when attendance rose in a majority of NHL markets.