So, Where Do We Go From Here?
March 1, 2010 9 Comments
Hockey was the talk of this nation again, for the second straight Sunday. People were glued to their TV screens all day, checking out what Bob Costas dubbed “the greatest game I’ve ever seen”. Al Michaels added “Hockey at it’s best is the best.” Many others around the world were putting in their thoughts on Twitter. Even President Barack Obama watched the game, and bet Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper over the game with cases of beer (Because President Obama literally cannot go a day without offering someone beer). The commentator quotes will be posted in the afternoon.
I agree with all these sentiments. The game was the single most heartwrenching, heartpounding, heartstopping, emotional game I’ve ever sat through that didn’t involve the Devils. Crosby’s Overtime winner broke my heart almost as much as Game 7 of the Devils-Canes series last year, and Devils-Avs in ’01. Sidney Crosby is now Canada’s most famous resident. He will be endlessly worshipped by Canadians until the day he dies. His anointing has hockey’s premiere superstar – especially combined with Alexander Ovechkin doing some damage to his own rep this fortnight – is nigh.
Back to the states, however. The fact is, I’m going to post the ratings for the game about noon. They will be massive. It is very likely somewhere from 25-30 million people watched Overtime alone, and 15-20 million on average for the whole game. Hockey will likely front every sports page north of the mason dixon line. Americans were genuinely heartbroken over this loss, and connected to guys like Ryan Miller (made Team USA’s poster boy for the Olympics, and deservedly so), Zach Parise (who scored one of the most important goals in American hockey history) and Bobby Ryan (because of a heartbreaking story). These are names the average American knows that they didn’t yesterday.
So, if you’re a hockey fan, and if you’re the NHL… what do you do about that? How do you tell your buddy that the next 16 weeks of hockey are just as awesome, passionate and fun than the last two. Because it’s not, at least half the time. There will be some very good, even great hockey played during the season’s final 6-7 weeks, and the two months of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be dynamite as it always it. But it won’t be USA-Canada, one game for the Gold Medal, unless you hit jackpot with another seven game Stanley Cup Final. How do you convince the average American, who merely tuned in out of national pride, to stick around and remain a fan?
It’s a confusing prospect. The immediate impact: American teams with large/key amounts of American players (New Jersey, NY Rangers, Buffalo, St. Louis, Chicago, Colorado) will now sell a few extra tickets at home and away, as people want to see the heroes of this two week tournament. NBC needs to figure out a way to show a Sabres game before the season ends. Miller became a name as big as Apollo Ohno or Lindsey Vonn when this Olympics ended. The network needs to find a way to cash in on that. Buffalo plays Carolina in a game listed as a potential flexer on March 21. Take a shot on it. I know it’s vs. Carolina, but they’re playing better. I know you’d miss out on Rangers-Bruins in taking it, but you could do worse.
As far as American TV goes, the NHL should – once it sees the ratings numbers for this afternoon’s game – immediately demand NBC pay them a rights fee for the next four seasons, in exchange for – whether over the table or under – If NBC covers the next Olympics, NHL participation in the Sochi Games. Without NHL players, there might still be some interest in today’s game, but it doesn’t hit the made-for-TV numbers they’ll get. They should also demand VERSUS and ESPN and whoever else in the cable world pony up big bucks. This is the NHL’s power play opportunity, especially with the NFL and NBA headed toward labor disputes and the NBC being colder than an Irish potato.
Look, there won’t be too much of a short-term effect, if you’ll forgive me for being pessimistic. Colorado and Detroit will play on VERSUS tonight at 9PM. It will not draw more than a million viewers. It may hit a season high for VERSUS (and maybe a network high for a regular season game), but the NHL will remain buried in the cable doldrums for a while. The key for this league is to use this newfound momentum into sustaining long term growth with it’s media partners.
Use the next NBC deal to guarantee that – if NBC gets the Olympics, again – NHL Network get the same access as any of the NBC networks in the next tournament. I want to be able to see NHL: On the Fly, live from Sochi. The truth is, NHL Network was rarely tuned into in my house during this tourney, except for the occasional NHL Live.
Use this momentum to commit NBC to hundreds of millions of dollars between itself and VERSUS/Whatever VERSUS turns into to our game. Hell, make them pitch in a few more bucks, and give Universal Sports a non-home market exclusive Game of the Week, a la HDNet, to help grow that channel. Make sure that, in the long term, that people will be able to see the average NHL player almost every night of the week. Because after this Olympics, they certainly deserve more than the occasional coverage they get.