The NHL Must Prepare For A Sports Landscape All to Itself in 2011-12
March 15, 2011 3 Comments
I’m not here to pretend I understand anything about what’s going on with the potential of a season-impeding NFL lockout. Here’s what I know: if they don’t play, I don’t have work on Sundays. More importantly, however, it leaves a massive void in the sports and sports television landscape on Sunday, afternoons in particular, where two separate networks dedicate 4-8 hours per Sunday on NFL football, while another dedicates 4+ more in primetime, as one of the most popular network television programs in the country.
As little as I understand about the NFL’s labor situation, I understand even less about the NBA’s. Here’s what I do know: if there is an NBA lockout that takes any time out of their season in addition to the NFL having problems, it leaves the National Hockey League with the sports world to itself once the World Series ends, save for college football, which rarely runs over. It’s an opportunity, folks, one that we may never have again.
The goal for the NHL is to be aggressive. Be very aggressive. The 1998-99 NBA season did not start until February, and the National Hockey League did little to nothing to take advantage of it via television or in appealing to their fans. However, times were different then: the league was in a lame duck television contract with FOX (who were busy cutting games instead of adding them). This time, they’ll have relative labor peace, and a new television deal with potentially an added network (whether it’s ESPN or Turner) that will need to fill tons of hours of programming due to the lack of basketball and football.
This is my way of telling, no, imploring the NHL: create a schedule that prepares for there to be no other sports with it in the fall. Throw a ton of games on Sundays to garner attention from fans looking for a game to check out on their day off that would typically spent either at an NFL game, or at the bar watching them. Discount the Sunday games to remind fans that the players and owners have at least a public face of peace and wanting to “play for the fans.”
Get NBC, VERSUS, and whoever else is televising the National Hockey League involved. Put more hockey on network television than ever before, and put it on while the NFL and NBA are gone. Take advantage of this chance to have people paying attention to hockey in October, November and December like never before. Build success into the Winter Classic instead of having to build it off of the Winter Classic.
And don’t do this simply before the NBA or NFL returns. If the NBA comes back in January again, be even more aggressive. Make sure the NHL on NBC airs every Sunday. Don’t give the competition a week off, and see if you can build something against the NBA On ABC. Maybe the NBA would return to fantastic ratings, but with NHL ratings sitting at the bottom of the totem poll (and not growing on broadcast like it is on cable) why not try something new? Air doubleheaders with regional coverage, give a chance to grant every team in the league that deserves it a national profile, something teams like Los Angeles, Buffalo, San Jose and others outside the big NBC 7 or so teams haven’t had before.
(Incidentally, let me use this as my chance for the day to implore that NBC air Chicago-Tampa Bay as the NHL Game of the Week on April 3rd. Thanks guys!)
Look, I know I’m an optimist. Maybe the NFL could come back sooner than anyone thinks, or maybe not miss time at all, and the NHL would be stuck with 12-13,000 crowds in every market for three months. They could get burned. But the planets are aligning for hockey like never before, and they stand to gain nothing if they spend an NBA- and NFL-less fall and winter in a holding pattern.