Call Pittsburgh the new Hockey-tahn.
The Penguins learned Monday that their local television viewership was No. 1 among the NHL's U.S.-based teams with an 8.68 rating and an average of 101,000 homes tuning in per game. It was their fourth consecutive finish at the top, but this one came despite missing their marquee attractions, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, for half the season.
"Our fans never cease to amaze us," said Tom McMillan, the Penguins' vice president of communications. "To have hockey established here to the point where we lead the country in ratings two years in a row, that's a statement enough for Pittsburgh. But I think this year it means even more because we lost so much of our star power. Sometimes, there's a belief that, if your star power goes away, so does the interest. That clearly didn't happen."
The figures, released Monday morning by the Sports Business Journal, measured only local broadcasts. In Pittsburgh, that meant Root Sports, the former FSN Pittsburgh. Any games involving the Penguins televised by NBC and Versus were not included. NBC's broadcast of the Winter Classic from Heinz Field drew the NHL's biggest rating -- 32.0 -- for any regular-season game in 36 years.
Also not included was data from the six Canadian teams or the Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators, neither of whom could have come close to Pittsburgh.
The 8.68 local rating and 101,000 homes are franchise highs, and each represents a healthy increase from the 8.17 rating and 94,000 homes from last year.
Perhaps most impressive is the context of the 101,000 homes: Pittsburgh is the NHL's 22nd-largest market, but it finished ahead of markets many times larger. The defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks were second at 96,000 homes, then the Boston Bruins at 77,000, the Detroit Red Wings at 76,000, the Philadelphia Flyers at 71,000 and the New York Rangers at 59,000.
In these playoffs, the Pittsburgh audience has nearly doubled, with a 16.2 rating for Game 1 of the first-round series with the Tampa Bay Lightning last week, and a 12.15 for Game 2.
Compared to the most recent full seasons of the other two teams in town, the Steelers ranked second in the NFL, behind the New Orleans Saints, with a 41.9 average local rating, and the Pirates ranked 15th in Major League Baseball, with a 3.44 rating. The Pirates averaged 39,730 homes per game.
The Penguins also have ranked No. 1 in the past year in website hits and merchandise sales, as well as extending their ongoing sellout streak for home games to 208.
The NHL's lowest local viewership was for the Florida Panthers, with a 0.16 rating and 3,000 homes.