The Suitor Tutor, Part 3: All The Rest

With the NHL nearing a new TV contact, a multi-part series, “The Suitor Tutor”, takes a look at the potential bidders for NHL hockey.

The Suitor (#1): FOX, and likely it’s corporate cable siblings FSN and FX.

The Numbers: In 1994, the NHL was on the rise and used that rise to win itself a big money, national network TV deal.  FOX, which had only launched a half-decade earlier and drunk with power after  outbidding competing CBS for the NFL, proceeded to also outbid competing CBS for the NHL with a 5-year, $155 million contract.  One would hope the NHL can get more money than that this time around but … we’ll believe it when I see it.

The Ratings

Regular Season

1995 2.0
1996 2.1
1997 1.9
1998 1.4
1999 1.4

All-Star Game

1996 4.1*
1997 2.8*
1998 2.7
1999 2.2

*-Aired in primetime

Stanley Cup Final

1995 3.4
1996 3.6
1997 4.0
1998 3.3
1999 3.4

(Source: Andrew’s Dallas Stars Page)

The Story: FOX did the best job comprehensively covering NHL hockey that the league has ever seen from a network in 1998.  With an Olympic break in between, FOX aired 11 consecutive weeks of regional hockey action, airing up to 6 games in a regional window from January through April.  In 1999, they cut the regional games in half, though still aired 11 straight weeks of games.

The problem – aside from slipping ratings – was that the network could never catch a break when it came to the Stanley Cup Final.  They would air three of the four games they had rights to cover once, two twice, and one twice.  FOX only aired a total of nine Final telecasts in five year.  For comparison, NBC has aired 21 Stanley Cup games in five years, and ABC aired 22 in it’s five years.  Part of that is just luck and part of it is not having the rights to all seven games of the Final.

That is something FOX wanted to rectify in the next contract.  However, the NHL completely dicked over FOX in a story you can read here.  Network and league have been sour on the national level ever since.

The Verdict: If you get a decent offer and exposure from FOX, with FX thrown in, take it.  FOX’s media empire is able to promote anything, even hockey for awhile.  But I don’t see where the NHL could fit in.

The Suitor: CBS and its sports partner in crime of late, Turner

The Numbers: As was mentioned earlier, CBS was outbid by FOX in 1994, and the network hasn’t aired NHL hockey on a regular basis since the early 70’s.  Neither TNT nor TBS have ever aired NHL hockey.

The Story: The NHL would practically match Turner Sports with the ESPN empire, giving them rights to the MLB postseason, NBA postseason and the NCAA Tournament (occasionally the championship game) in addition to the NHL and likely the Stanley Cup Final.  CBS has some room in it’s schedule after NFL season, but it would have to work hockey around college hoops.

However, one wonders if there’s really enough interest in the NHL for any bidders beyond VERSUS/NBC and ESPN/ABC.  We shall see.

The Verdict: Again, by all means take the money if it’s the right deal.  But until further notice, just not the right fit, in my opinion.


4 Responses to The Suitor Tutor, Part 3: All The Rest

  1. John says:

    You mentioned that CBS has not shown hockey since the early 70′s…this is incorrect. CBS showed the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals game 6 (Islanders vs. Flyers)

  2. Dave Sullivan says:

    Also, let’s not forget that CBS is the highest-rated network. How willing would they be to air the Stanley Cup in primetime? With the Gator Bowl moving to ESPN2, they have room for the Winter Classic, but they air a lot of college basketball in January and February, never mind March. My preference for a cable partner has all along been Turner. I think that Versus is getting better and better every year, but the facts remain that they have very little live sports apart from the NHL, they remain in far fewer households than TNT/TBS and ESPN/ESPN2, and have a disadvantageous channel assignment on many systems. Of course, there’s no room on TNT in April and May, so it would be TBS. I wonder if they have the resources to televise forty NBA playoff games and who knows how many NHL playoff games at the same time, though. One of my other beefs with Versus is that they can’t even cover four series at the same time without simulcasting.

  3. danimal says:

    I do not see FOX or Turner bidding. CBS can almost certainly be ruled out because of their comprehensive college basketball and PGA Tour slates (although the latter both for them and for NBC is up for renewal in the next 1-2 years). Plus as the above poster noted, they often win summer prime-times even when CSI or comedy reruns go against original programming on NBC or FOX.

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