Stanley Cup Finals TV broadcasting approach feels disjointed, shortsighted

There are certainly television and sports executives who know this stuff better than I do, but there’s something in the current NHL/NBC television deal that strikes me as an odd way to best build interest in the NHL.

Under the current agreement, Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals airs on NBC. That’s great; it means the three-overtime-thriller between Boston and Chicago last week could be seen on almost any TV with either basic cable or a set of rabbit ears within range of an NBC affiliate. The game drew the best overnight ratings for Game 1 of a Stanley Cup Final in 16 years.

However, anyone who watched that game and then tuned into NBC Saturday night for Game 2 discovered the game wasn’t being carried there. The second game of the Blackhawks-Bruins series was airing on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN), as the current TV deal calls for Games 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 to be carried on NBC and for Games 2 and 3 to air on NBCSN. Unfortunately, millions of people who get NBC in their homes don’t have NBCSN [Note: After lowering our cable bill by around $100 a month, I’m now one of these people].

On the one hand, this approach by NBC and the NHL seems like a great way to build a sports network. You reel people in with Game 1 and then shift them over to your newer sports channel for the next two games, hopefully building more awareness for it and getting more people to sign up for a cable package that includes NBCSN, which brings in more money via cable fees for NBC.

But there will no doubt be plenty of people—casual sports fans, those who stumbled upon Game 1, etc.—who don’t have NBCSN and who aren’t going to change their cable package for Games 2 and 3 just because they saw a great Game 1. And how many of these people whose interest in hockey rose with Game 1, but who can’t watch Games 2 and 3, will still be dialed into the series by the time Game 4 rolls around?

I’m willing to bet that a good number of people who aren’t die-hard hockey fans are going to lose some interest between Game 1 and 4 if they don’t get the two games in between on TV. For some potential new fans, the series will completely drop of their radar if they can no longer watch. The ‘NBC to NBCSN and then back to NBC’ broadcasting approach seems like an odd way to build momentum. Even if ratings rise during the series, I have to wonder if they would have been even higher if the TV deal put all of the Finals on the major network and stuck with it.

While growing NBCSN is important, there are few opportunities for the NHL to showcase its brand each year the way they can during the Stanley Cup Finals. And turning new fans onto hockey during the Finals should ultimately help future NBCSN ratings, as more people start following the league and seek out NBCSN during future regular seasons and earlier playoff rounds.

NBC could air every game of the Stanley Cup Finals on its major network (as Fox did with the World Series and ABC is currently doing with the NBA Finals), get people hooked on what can be some of the most exciting hockey of the year and then cash in when some of them subscribe to a cable/dish package with NBCSN to watch even more hockey going forward. The current set-up feels disjointed, shortsighted and, while it might help NBCSN more immediately, doesn’t strike me as the most ideal way to get as many people as possible wrapped up in the Stanley Cup Finals and converted into NHL fans.

About Mike Holden

Mike Holden is on Twitter at @mikeholden.

Posted on June 17, 2013, in NHL and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I could not agree more. I don’t have cable, but I am a huge hockey fan. I was stunned beyond belief to turn on ABC to watch a re-run of Chicago Fire instead of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this weekend. Such a bone-head move by NBC.

  2. Games should all be on free TV when it is the finals.Show them on the other network tape delayed for the 2nd shifters who can’t watch live.More people than ever have downgraded
    or canceled cable it’s soon to be a perk than a necessity since jobs want to continue to stagnate wages and understaff their workforce.CBS will suffer when they move March Madness to cable as well.Now you have no disposible income and you can’t even watch
    sports programming that was free because of greedy broadcasting execs. ENOUGH ALREADY!

  3. NBC is not airing tonight’s game (6-24-13) on their major network or on sports network (cable). It will be shown here in Detroit on a local station WADL, which is probably a small affiliate of NBC (not sure). I just wish the hockey games were on Fox Sports Network or better yet, on one of our other smaller local stations, as the commentators are far better. The NBC announcers are terrible and I hate it when they say “There’s a whistle and play has stopped” without telling the fans why! They don’t seem to know much about the sport! Sometimes I find this very frustrating. Does anyone else agree with me? NBC should be broadcasting ALL playoff games on their major network! Why in the world would they spend so much money to air the NHL games and then not make them available to everyone?

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