Why the BCS’ Move to Cable Doesn’t Exactly Spell Death For the NHL on Broadcast TV

Tooday it was announced that FOX has passed up on the BCS’ bidding rights.  Because, for some reason, the idea of paying more than $100 million a year for a total of four big college football games a year just seemed wrong to even the logic-allergic folks at the FOX networks.  However, what has people the most intrigued is the winner of these rights: ESPN.  Not ESPN on ABC, just plain ol’ ESPN.  The Worldwide Leader gets college football’s national championship, the first major sport to do so since the 1994 Rangers celebrated winning the Stanley Cup on ESPN, and local cable network MSG.  

This entire process has sparked a debate on how much longer it will take for all (non-Super Bowl) major sporting events to move to cable permanently.  Most people are looking at the NHL with an evil smile and a body language that says “You’re next”.  However, I don’t see the NHL moving the entire Stanley Cup Finals to cable for at least a few more years.  Here’s a few reasons why:

1. NBC has a Stake in the League via it’s Olympic Coverage – NBC looks at the NHL as less of a sporting league to be covered cohesively, and more like they look at one of the 30 or so figure skating or gymnastics specials they air each year.  It’s supplemental to the network’s coverage of the Olympic games.  It’s an easy way to get out the faces of Team USA and Canada without having to do too much additional storytelling.  Plus, Olympic hockey’s gold medal game will likely draw close to a Game 7-Stanley Cup Final type rating, and perhaps double that if Team USA’s involved.  NBC would likely try to parlay that into a couple more years of hockey, and maybe a Dick Ebersol wink, wink, nudge, nudge to Gary Bettman to keep the pros coming back to the Games.

2.  What NBC is losing on the league: Nothing – I mentioned the hefty price tag the BCS passed up on from FOX – $100 million a year.  Imagine what ESPN must have paid for the games?  Now look at the NHL’s deal with NBC.  The network doesn’t have to pay a rights fee, all costs are split between the NHL and the Peacock, and both parties have been reported as making money on what is relatively safe, easy-to-catch-on to Summer programming.  If the NHL were to invade the all-important May Sweeps period, we might see a problem.  But for the first week of June, NBC’s getting a good deal even if they can’t get Penguins-Red Wings each year.

3. The League Stands as Having Far too Much to Lose By Leaving Broadcast – No one’s going to complain about college football moving it’s championship to ESPN.  They might not even complain about the entire British Open going there.  But, say ESPN replaces NBC as the home of the Finals.  It will be another notch in the belt of lazy national sports columnists who think the NHL is nothing worth spending time over seriously.  If anything, it’ll increase the number of autopiloted “NHL is dead” columns every year.

All this said, who knows what the future will bring for the NHL on TV.  I’m just saying, don’t believe what you might read that this automatically signals the death of the NHL On NBC.


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