Next Season Right Time For the NHL, NBC To Test Primetime Waters

Before we all go on here, I just wanted to point out one thing: How cool was that little NBC Sports “Championship Season” promo they showed during the game yesterday?  I found that to be one of the better things NBC’s done since they got the NHL deal, and it’s not even an NHL specific promo.  NBC’s doing some great, innovative little things.  That sort of brings me to the point I wanted to bring up with you all this morning.

As many of you know, to make room for UEFA Champions League final (and to test it’s feasibility for a more permanent move next year), FOX Saturday Baseball took it’s afternoon package of regional telecasts to primetime.  It did pretty okay.  Won the night among Adults 18-49, drew 4.5 million viewers to the game (without counting west coast markets) and will likely be the 1st or 2nd highest rated baseball broadcast of the season, depending on what FOX is able to muster up when they try this again in June.

So it means that MLB, the NBA, NFL, NASCAR, NCAA football and MLS have all gotten a Saturday night primetime slot for a special, non-championship event.  That doesn’t even add in the US Open women’s final, PGA majors, NCAA Tournament action and Scripps’ National Spelling Bee’s that have gotten their turn to try and carve out a niche on a Saturday night.  It’s television least-watched evening, there hasn’t been regularly scheduled scripted programming since 2003.

So… why not hockey?

If regular season baseball can throw out four regionalized games and draw 4.5-5 million… why can’t, say, a split regional telecast of the San Jose/Detroit and Philadelphia/Boston series, or a split regional telecast of last year’s Pittsburgh/Washington and Anaheim/Detroit series, earn a respectable (for Saturdays) 3.5-4 million?  It’s feasible, in my opinion.  If Saturday and Sunday afternoon hockey on network television is capable of drawing 2 million viewers, the move to primetime on Saturday could easily double that.  At very worst, it’d win the night in Adults 18-49, something NBC cares about as much as any network, and something the Stanley Cup Final did five nights in 2009.

I’m sure there are many who will disagree with that statement, and many who will flat-out call me wrong for this next one: why not try this on, say, the Saturday night in between the NFL Conference Championships and the Super Bowl:

  • 8PM: NY Rangers vs. New Jersey
  • 8PM: Detroit vs. Chicago
  • 8PM: Pittsburgh vs. Washington
  • 11PM: Colorado vs. Los Angeles (West Coast Only)

Just do what FOX does, essentially: take a regional announcer from each team to call it, and throw Emrick/Olczyk/McGuire at the best game.  Or re-hire the two other teams the network used to call regional games in 2006 and 2007.  This can be done without costing too much.  It isn’t like NBC is losing money on the NHL regardless.

Some might find it annoying that this would replace an All-Star Game in the NHL’s yearly, non-Olympic timeline.  Well I argue: who cares?  An annual,  primetime, regular season showcase for the National Hockey League is as important – if not moreso – than an All-Star Game.  Heck, one of the highest-rated hockey games of all time is the 1996 All-Star Game in Boston on FOX.  When did that game air?  Oh yeah, Saturday night.  Sure, it had FOXtrax premiere buzz behind it, but it was an event, and it was good for the league.

Here’s what NBC aired, and their overnight ratings, for the last four weeks of primetime Saturday night programming:

  • 5/22/10: 8PM – Parenthood (R) 2.06 million viewers, 0.5 A18-49.  9PM – Law & Order (R) 4.03 million viewers, 0.8 A18-49.  10PM – Law & Order: SVU (R) 4.56 million viewers, 1.1 A18-49
  • 5/15/10: 8PM – Parenthood (R) 2.06 million viewers, 0.5 A18-49.  9PM – Law & Order (R) 3.73 million viewers, 0.8 A18-49.  10PM – Law & Order: SVU (R) 4.86 million viewers, 1.2 A18-49
  • 5/8/10: 8PM – Parenthood (R) 2.10 million viewers, 0.6 A18-49.  9PM – Law & Order (R) 3.92 million viewers, 0.8 A18-49.  10PM – Law & Order: SVU (R) 5.67 million viewers, 1.3 A18-49
  • 5/1/10: 8PM – Parenthood (R) 2.74 million viewers, 0.8 A18-49.  9PM – Law & Order (R) 4.39 million viewers, 1.0 A18-49.  10PM – Law & Order: SVU (R) 5.13 million viewers, 1.3 A18-49

Doesn’t anyone else think this is beatable?  I’ll eat my words if Game 1 (a likely Saturday start) of the Stanley Cup Final can’t at least outperform the 8-10PM block.  5 million for a Game 1 might be a bit much, but regardless… I think some of those numbers there are something our sport can improve on, and it needs to be given the shot to do so.

So here’s what I tell NBC: put us on 1 Saturday night in primetime.  It can be a regular season game or, better yet, the Saturday NBC typically skips NHL playoff action for a horse race.  Use the healthy thoroughbred lead-in to spur ratings for your coverage.  Make sure you have Dan Patrick or Bob Costas or Al Michaels to host it with Milbury and/or Roenick in the New York studios, and make sure to try some new things that an NHL broadcast hasn’t seen before.  Anything goes.  It’d definitely create more excitement among American fans than another boring, listless All-Star Game, and it could certainly generate as much interest as four meaningless, regionalized baseball contests in May.  The NHL and NBC need to take a chance.  Besides, what else you gonna’ show in that slot… it’s Saturday.  I got stuff to do.

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About stevelepore
Steve Lepore is the Managing Editor of Puck the Media. His work has been featured in The Hockey News. Feel free to contact him at stevemlepore@gmail.com

11 Responses to Next Season Right Time For the NHL, NBC To Test Primetime Waters

  1. Michael says:

    The NHL and FOX should just kiss and make up and get back into bed together. The NHL, as far as I’m concerned, never had it so good when they were partnered with FOX. They just screwed FOX over.

  2. E says:

    I think this is would be great.
    Here’s my idea.
    I think the NHL should consider having an “original six night”.
    On the Saturday night, there would be 3 games involving the original six teams.

    NY Rangers- Boston
    Detroit- Chicago
    Toronto-Montreal

    All would start at 7pm.
    NBC would televise Rangers-Boston and Detroit-Chicago

    Every other game that Saturday would have to be played in the daytime.

    I think the best time to start prime would be the week after the Super Bowl. Football is over, and everyone is looking for something else to watch.

  3. chrisreber says:

    Would there be any chance of conflict with Saturday Night Live? I know that’s a problem NBC ran into before with overtime games in the XFL and WWF events.

  4. Jason says:

    I think that if there is solely one night game between two west coast Canadian teams, it would be a win-win for all parties. CBC would get their full HNIC (and could also sync this to Hockey Day in Canada with having orphan western Canada team-Ottawa in the afternoon) and NBC could get what they want.

  5. jkrdevil says:

    When has MLS been on network primetime in the last couple of years?

  6. Trent says:

    Challenge about doing it in January is its competition is first run programming on other networks. Otherwise, I don’t mind the concept.

  7. Rhett says:

    Super idea.

  8. Vicki says:

    Just as a note that the sports “Championship Season” promo had a great song Heroes by David Cook. It’s quite an inspirational song. :)

  9. Jim Hershberg says:

    it’s = it is (nothing else)

  10. Gumper says:

    I think its a great idea as long as I can still get to see HNIC in the US as well.

  11. Sean says:

    That idea is stupid because it would fail. Sports fan, in general, don’t care about regular season hockey in the US. Fox only got a 1.2 rating with 18-49 with a prime lineup featuring Philly, LA, Boston and New York. The NHL is not as popular — I highly doubt they would come close to what NBC usually has on a Saturday night for regular season games.

    Your better idea came at the end. They could use the Kentucky Derby & the Preakness to lead into a playoff hockey game that night.

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