So, here's something to chew on: this year's NCAA women's hockey final between Boston College and Minnesota, which aired one week late on tape delay Easter Sunday on CBS, drew 651,000 households. This is significantly more than any men's hockey tournament game drew over the same weekend, and also slightly more than the estimated U.S. viewership (635,000 households) of last year's BU-Providence men's national championship game on ESPN. I have not seen any sites that calculated out the number of viewers from the number of households, but a fair guess is somewhere in the neighborhood of a million viewers for each game.
While the ESPN figures for the men's tournament don't include the likely significant number of people who streamed the games on ESPN3/WatchESPN, the women's viewership figures also don't include the people who streamed the final live.
A couple major caveats right off the bat:
- The women's final was aired on over-the-air CBS, whereas men's games are aired on cable (including channels like ESPNU and ESPN News which require additional packages on most providers).
- Ratings for the men's final are traditionally savaged by going up against the crucial last night of the NHL season almost every year
- The ratings for all of these games are not exactly blockbuster compared to other major sports however you slice them and dice them; college hockey is just not a major national TV product. The men's and women's championship game ratings are about equal to those of a good NBCSN NHL regular season game.
That said, the fact that the women's game drew such a solid number by hockey standards on tape delay says something about the ability of women's hockey to draw a crowd, at least for one-off special events.
4.9 million people watched the Olympic women's hockey final on TV, and an additional 1.2 million streamed it online - despite the fact that the game happened on a weekday afternoon. While the Olympics are obviously a special case, there's clearly a community out there interested in these games, particularly with the growth in womens' and girls' hockey programs across the country.
Hopefully this number encourages CBS - who have long sat on the TV rights but refused to sell them to a network that might air it live - to actually broadcast next year's Frozen Four, be it on CBSSN or over-the-air CBS. I think the rating, at least in year one, would surprise some people.