Hockey Fans Win More Than Anybody Else In New NHL/Comcast Mega-Deal
April 19, 2011 28 Comments
Everyone should be satisfied.
Gary Bettman should feel good about himself today. As many have pointed out, he took a property that was worth a paltry $70-80 million per year in 2005 coming out of the lockout, and worth nothing to broadcast television, and turned it into a $200 million-per year, broadcast inclusive, multimedia mega-deal in six years. Now, one could point out that he also took it from being worth $150 million to ESPN/ABC in 1999 to practically worthless in 6 years because of a lockout, but we’ll stay positive today. Commissioner Bettman should feel great validation in his faith in Comcast and what eventually became VERSUS today.
Another thing he’ll win is better playoff coverage. I’ve whined about the inability for the NHL to get all of it’s playoff games on national television for quite some time now, but that ends starting next year (and even, to some extent, this year, with VERSUS/NBC airing a quadruple-header Saturday). Every playoff game will have a national, cable or broadcast network home. That puts the NHL on even footing with the NBA as far as coverage. Also putting them on even footing is getting every playoff game from the Conference Semifinals on an exclusive broadcast. It provides automatic national ratings growth for that round, which had previously only seen two games per series on an exclusive basis.
Dick Ebersol has reasons to be satisfied with this as well. He can go back to worrying about the Olympics and the NFL lockout now. It’s one more headache gone, and he’s set up his broadcast network with an additional major league should a lockout decrease the ratings power of the football. He’s also set up his company’s cable network with at least 270 hours of programming (not including pre- and post-game) from October-April with 90 exclusive NHL games (no more “bonus telecasts”) on whatever VERSUS will be re-named within three months. That doesn’t even include the playoffs, which will now be broadcast across multiple networks of NBC/Comcast. Both of the major parties should be happy with this.
Again, NBC gets a chance to grow their sports department with this. The Thanksgiving Friday game NBC will air is the earliest an NHL game has ever been on broadcast television, and don’t doubt that NBC will make a big deal about it. Sure, it will likely involve the big seven or eight NBC favorites, but it continues to branch out hockey ‘s exposure beyond the typical. Hockey Day in America will return, and be sure that the event will increase in hours and coverage next year. Hockey fits in well with their network demographic (18-49 males, and particularly 18-34 males) and with their brand. With VERSUS along for the ride, they needed this as much as the NHL did.
But the biggest winner in all of this, and the one most deserving of a victory in all of this, is the hockey fan. You will now be served with the most NHL games on national television in more than a decade, and on a network that truly cares about them. You will no longer have to shell out $150 a year just to see every playoff game. That will seem absurd to you in a couple of years, that you even did in the past. In fact, Center Ice might become unnecessary to you now that there’s 100 games on national television every year. Just by the increase in games, you’ll be able to see more teams on a regular basis and just be saturated with hockey programming more hours per day.
You’ll see the NHL Network improve, too. NBC Sports Group has committed to building the NHL Net a studio in VERSUS’ home of Stamford, CT. Having the NHL Network complete it’s new look with a brand new studio and likely, a more American personality to it will likely improve that network. In 2006, the average hockey fan had about 7-10 hours a week of national coverage, and that’s if NBC was airing a game. Now, with NHL Network airing On the Fly in America every night for six hours of live stuff, VERSUS being on three nights a week at least, and NBC returning for many weeks, hockey fans can expect a minimum of 50-60 hours per week of games and studio shows.
So cheer a little louder today, puckheads. You’ve been told for years by TV execs, commentators, pundits and others who just don’t get it that your sport is inferior, less telegenic, that nobody cares. With this deal, the NHL, NBC and Comcast have committed to each other, and they’ve committed to you, to show that our sport is worth the limelight that we shine on it night after night. The more and more I think about this deal, the word “commitment” seems about right. Because it cements a commitment between everyone in the world of hockey. All in one place. Enough worrying about this, let’s go watch some hockey.