Whoever Acquires NHL TV Rights Must Submit to a Weekly Doubleheader


I’m a big fan of a term in television called “block prgramming,” where networks put similar programming together for a night that will carry viewers from start to finish. NBC’s Thursday night comedy block, or Sunday night cartoons on FOX. Anything Adult Swim programs during the weeknights tends to fit that brand. CBS airing one crappy, faceless drama after another. People who like one of these shows tend to like all of them and watch all of them, keeping the tenuous grasp on viewers for hours.

Something I’ve noticed recently is that viewers are just as okay following this to the sports networks. College-aged viewers who watch NCAA Basketball don’t really care who’s playing, as long as there’s another game coming up next. The ESPN family of networks has at least 3-4 doubleheaders a week, and sometimes tripleheaders and quadrupleheaders on the weekends. If you look at the viewership figures for these games, they stay largely at the same level, capturing enough viewers to justify the exercise of programming 6-8 hours of hoops.

So why is it that the NHL On VERSUS has three doubleheaders all season?

There’s the obvious arguments here that far western teams don’t draw as well, they aren’t as recognizable to east coast viewers, that those on the east are already tired after three hours of hockey to begin with, and that, realistically, there are only eight NHL teams that  could host a game in the 10PM ET hour, and five of them are Canadian teams that don’t draw American viewers, or in the very least don’t have a local market to keep the numbers at an acceptable level. That it costs lots of money and man-power to get satellite trucks out to the west coast.

The thing is, I don’t care about that. I don’t like to look at things logically when I look at my dreams for how good hockey coverage can be. I want to see as much of it as I can, night after night. I want to see the Ducks and Kings and Coyotes and Sharks and Canucks. Most hockey fans, I bet, do too. The Pacific Division might send five teams to the playoffs this season. Why is that division only being represented five times in the final 32 VERSUS NHL broadcasts this season? In contrast, the Northeast Division – which has generally bit pretty terrible this season – will have nine games on VERSUS the rest of the way. Here’s the divisional breakdown for the final 32 NHL games on VERSUS in 2010-11:

  • Central: 13
  • Atlantic: 12
  • Southeast: 10
  • Northeast: 9
  • Pacific: 5
  • Northwest: 5

I certainly hope VERSUS plans to add 1 or 2 more games from the teams way out west, but it doesn’t look like that’s happening right now. When you add in all the exposure from NBC for the teams in the other four divisions, it looks even more lopsided. I’ve always been a guy who’s never felt like there should be equality as far as television goes – the teams that are good should be on as much as possible, and the ones that are awful should be Siberia as far as VERSUS is concerned. This, however, isn’t right to the really great hockey that’s being played in California, Arizona, BC, Alberta and Colorado every night.

This is why the NHL needs to make a deal with a TV network promising that one night a week will be a designated doubleheader. To make it more certain of decent ratings, be sure you get the schedule-makers to spread out when the popular teams from the east and central (Rangers, Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, you get it) make it out to the Pacific Time Zone. You can use Colorado as liberally as you want as well. Just make sure you give me one game at 10:00 PM ET per week in the next TV deal. I believe there’s only been something like 5-6 games televised on VERSUS in that hour the past three years. That is awful.

Look, again, I see the cost and ratings reasons for not doing games out west. Regardless, they still need to be done. We need to grow the followings for these teams so that when the come east to play Chicago or Minnesota or Detroit, the ratings aren’t some of the worst of the season for hockey. Also, it’ll provide a lot of help in speeding up the “getting to know you” process around playoff time when all you’ve been showing all year is Detroit and Chicago. While it may be a little weak at the start, guaranteeing LA and Anaheim and San Jose a game on national TV a week is good for business.

9 Responses to Whoever Acquires NHL TV Rights Must Submit to a Weekly Doubleheader

  1. talkendo says:

    Sir, I like your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

  2. Chris says:

    What’s to stop Versus from doing a doubleheader each week and the majority of the time just picking up a local feed for a west coast game? Nothing, that’s what. It would be incredibly cheap, and could be blacked out in the participating markets. Afterward, put on NHL Overtime and you have yourself a winner. In theory, it could lead to increased playoff ratings as well, since more viewers in the eastern part of the country would be more familiar with teams from the west.

    I honestly don’t see why Versus isn’t doing this already.

  3. Rhett says:

    I fully agree with your thoughts on this, Mr. Lepore. And the funny thing is – as Chris correctly notes, Versus could easily be doing this already.

    First, Comcast has a sports channel in the Bay Area which covers the San Jose Sharks games (and infact, Versus used the CSN feed the other night for their Coyotes-Sharks broadcast), so those games can easily be simulcast, (and as noted, are already).

    And second, if they don’t want to do that, two of their play-by-play guys – Strader and Ahlers – are the local TV announcers for Western-based teams (Coyotes/Ducks respectively). So it’s not as if they have to fly people all the way out here to do it from back east. Pick up Remenda and camera crews from CSNCA and you have a broadcast. Or just send Billy Jaffe to do the color.

    I should also add that in any upcoming TV deal, the league needs to utilize their own network – in this same fashion – to also cover games. Perhaps a Tuesday doubleheader on Versus, a Thursday or Friday on another network, and Saturday doubleheader on the NHL Network. Fine if you don’t want to simulcast HNIC, but give fans a true “Hockey Night in the U.S.” on Saturday nights that would replicate what Canadian fans have seen for many years on CBC.

  4. stevelepore says:

    I was thinking something akin to NBA On TNT Thursday.

    • Rhett says:

      Exactly what I am thinking as well when I noted my thoughts earlier of having a true “Hockey Night in the U.S.” I, for one, would love to see such a thing on Saturday nights, but it really shouldn’t matter which night or which network, all that matters to fans is that they get as much live action as possible, which doubleheaders would of course do.

      Excellent idea once again, sir.

  5. E says:

    I like the idea of keeping hockey night in Canada as the Saturday night tradition. I would like to see the Monday night game as a national game at 8pm et. Then i would like to see a double header on Wednesday nights. Also the NBC games on Sunday have to start later in the afternoon. 12:30 is too early. They will continue to get ratings of .8 or lower. It will not matter who is playing.

  6. Arthur says:

    Rhett wants to “just pick up a camera crew” and “Versus could be doing this easily.”
    I don’t know what you do for a living Rhett but it sure as hell ain’t tv production. You know nothing about how to put on a live television broadcast

    • Chris S says:

      Go away, troll.

      I agree with you on this, Steve. I’m Canadian, so I see doubleheaders every Saturday, I’m positive an American doubleheader every week can only do great things for the NHL in the US.

  7. Ian says:

    What’s missing from national NHL broadcasts are late week or weekend games, particularly on Friday nights. The Versus games are quite invisible on Monday and Tuesday nights.

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