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Winter Classic was a television ratings success, too

The immediate reaction from the players, teams and NHL personnel was that Saturday night's Winter Classic at Heinz Field was a success, and the numbers yesterday reinforced the point.

According to preliminary data, NBC averaged 4.56 million viewers and beat CBS, ABC and Fox for the night in the 18-to-49 demographic. The initial 1.8 rating was expected to rise with complete data -- and that's after the game was moved from its original 1 p.m. start time to 8, a decision made the night before because of weather concerns.

"In retrospect, if we were able to choose the time -- which we weren't; NBC picked the time -- we would have picked prime time. So, in the end, it worked out as the best possible time to stage the game," Penguins CEO David Morehouse said.

"It was a great thing for the city for the whole week, a lot of attention on Pittsburgh with the HBO series and the Classic. Pittsburgh really shined. I think it's one of better events we've had in my lifetime in Pittsburgh."

Last year's game between Philadelphia and Boston at Fenway Park earned a 2.6 overnight rating, down from 2.9 for the 2009 game between Detroit and Chicago. The inaugural Winter Classic between the Penguins and Buffalo also drew a 2.6. The previous three games were played during the afternoon.

The nighttime scene was dramatic and made for beautiful television -- from the way the Heinz Field lights reflected off the clouds to the illuminated skyline to the Christmas tree at Point State Park.

"Somebody from one of the clubs was telling me that as they approached the stadium and saw the lights on, it was just a spectacular sight," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said after the Capitals' 3-1 win. "They got chills down their spine and said it was one of the more amazing things they've been associated with in all their time in hockey."

Whether future games might be scheduled for prime time, Bettman said that wasn't something the league had considered until Friday.

"That's something we'll have to discuss with our network broadcast partners, obviously," he said.

Morehouse said he was especially pleased with how the lead-up events played out, from Friday's alumni game to the youth tournaments and community skating rink.

"I think the community rink was probably the best idea outside of the game itself that we came up with," he said. "It was a great celebration of winter and hockey in Pittsburgh."

Morehouse said he wouldn't mind a Penguins-Capitals matchup becoming a Jan. 1 tradition.

"The Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys play every Thanksgiving," he said. "It would be nice for us to play every New Year's Day."

Photo Galleries

Winter Classic 2011

Winter Classic 2011

The Bridgestone 2011 NHL Winter Classic featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the Washington Capitals, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011 at Heinz Field.

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