The NHL Has A Night Made For Next Year’s TV Deal, But Not This One

So wasn’t that a great hockey night? Aside from depressing possible end to the Phoenix Coyotes, there was some fantastic stuff last night. From the clip of Marian Gaborik clearing the puck into the stomach of an opposing player who tapped it in for a double overtime winner that will likely make the sports blooper reels for years, to James Neal’s equally chippy double overtime winner for Pittsburgh. To the very fact that we saw two overtimes. Teemu Selanne and Ryan Miller continued to amaze, and the Detroit Red Wings continued to be as sure a thing as Mike Keenan interrupting someone trying to make a point.

The only problem was, if you don’t own Center Ice or Game Center Live … you missed almost all of it. VERSUS aired the Rangers/Capitals game – which had every bit the intrigue that San Jose/Los Angeles had the night before – to it’s double overtime conclusion, then cut over to two and a half periods of the Detroit/Phoenix game. In fact, the best situation someone could hope to be in is a fan living in New York or Washington, who got the Buffalo/Philadelphia game on VERSUS on an alternate feed, and saw the opening of Phoenix/Detroit, too.

Not that VERSUS did anything wrong, at least regarding this. The Phoenix/Detroit broadcast was a bit of a mess that saw the network cut away from the Coyotes saluting their fans for what could be the last time. There wasn’t nearly enough done to inform people who might be casual viewers as to why Shane Doan was holding back tears, or why fans were so desperately cheering on their team. That said, this piece isn’t about that. When it came to scheduling, VERSUS did exactly what they were supposed to do, given the circumstances.

However, tonight was the night that the NHL, and every TV network that bid to win the rights to air it’s games, had in mind. Can you imagine it now? An NCAA Tournament-style set-up, with a host directing traffic to the various games. Possibly, in the NCAA vein, a constantly updating score-ticker in the upper corner to keep everyone updated on every game in the busy first round. It could have looked something like this, at least in a hypothetical world:

7:00 Washington vs. NY Rangers, VERSUS
Pittsburgh vs. Tampa Bay, CNBC
Philadelphia vs. Buffalo, USA
Anaheim vs. Nashville, G4
Detroit vs. Phoenix, Beginning on USA until the end of NYR/WSH on VERSUS

I mean, the networks might be different, and maybe the scheduling will be a bit more spread out to accommodate everything, though hopefully not like the NBA. Fact is, we could see something like this starting next year. It excites me, and it should excite you. This isn’t like the Olympics, where a hockey game is being demoted to cable for other programming. This is hockey being demoted for other hockey. NBCUniversal wants every hockey game on national television, and so does the NHL.

So get ready for it. Hockey fans who live outside their team’s home city will never have to be stuck waiting for an overtime game to end, or have to shell out money just to see them in the post-season. Hockey fans who just love to flip around will be in the same boat. I keep referencing the NCAA Tournament, but with all the exposure, and all the ability to flip back and forth and use picture-in-picture (in addition to streaming games on the web), the Stanley Cup Playoffs could finally bust out of the cult diehards and become a full-blown TV extravaganza. All while showing the diehards more games. What could be bad about that?

12 Responses to The NHL Has A Night Made For Next Year’s TV Deal, But Not This One

  1. leafsfan1967 says:

    Steve this is an excellent post. Two points… Doesn’t the new TV deal still allow for local broadcasts for the first round which means local blackouts on national networks and thus the same problem as this year?

    Also, Comcast NBC are going to have to work hard to make sure that whichever channels they use have the widest distribution.

  2. Stephen says:

    I agree with this post. It will be the best Stanley Cup Playoffs for next year with all the games being on National TV of the NBC-Comcast Channels.

  3. Martin says:

    Another thing to remember is that NBC will now hold all digital rights of the games that they broadcast. It will be interesting to see how they take advantage of that. I can only hope that they will follow CBC’s lead and do free streaming.

    • leafsfan1967 says:

      That’s a good point. Maybe that will solve the problem. What’s unclear is how this will impact the NHL’s Game Center product.

  4. Stu Dolgon says:

    My guess is that next year, the NHL will try for a maximum of four games each night during the first round. I cannot see G4 showing a game. Remember, NBC also has Bravo, which it used during the Torino Winter Games in 2006.

    • leafsfan1967 says:

      I’m not sure about this but G4 isn’t on as many systems as some of the other channels mentioned. Let’s hope they make wise use of their various outlets…

    • Morgan Wick says:

      I think we’d see games on Universal Sports or even the Golf Channel or NHL Network before we’d see them on G4.

  5. Mike in Idaho says:

    Steve, I’m glad you referenced Versus’ cutting away from the DET/PHX game way too quickly since it will probably be the last game in Arizona. I remember watching the last game in Winnipeg (coincidentally enough, also an elimination at the hands of the Red Wings) and Fox did a great job of post game coverage, showing the emotion going through the players and arena for a few minutes instead of Versus’ 5-10 seconds. Versus really blew it on this one.

    • Sean says:

      Does anyone outside of Phoenix care about the Coyotes? I’m assuming there was local coverage for the Coyotes’ fans. But if there were Coyotes fans…then there would still be a Coyotes team next year.

      Good riddance. You don’t play ice hockey in the desert.

  6. GGR says:

    Steve, very good post.

    You mentioned that fans could have seen all the action if they had Center Ice or GameCenter Live. I’m not sure about that, at least in Canada. I subscribed to Center Ice for years (first on DirecTV, then Rogers Cable) before switching to GCL this season. It’s about $160 (MLB is only $100, which I also get), but I haven’t been able to watch any games online through GCL because TSN and CBC have picked up pretty much all the games. (I canceled cable-TV after last year’s World Cup.) I’ve been watching elsewhere online, but unfortunately not in HD. I wouldn’t mind spending, say, $24.95 to get all playoff games through GCL β€” and even being forced to watch the Canadian feeds of games involving two U.S. teams if that were possible. What really irks me is when TSN picks up a regular-season game involving my Rangers and another American team β€” not the Senators or even another Canadian team β€” but I can’t watch it on GCL. I shouldn’t have to subscribe to cable-TV to watch playoff hockey. TSN sometimes shows broadcasts online but not every night.

    What do you think, Steve?

  7. Sean says:

    1) The NHL won’t have 4 games competing against each other ever again in the playoffs. 2 yes, 3 possibly, 4 never.

    2) No games are ending up on G4.

    3) No games are ending up on USA. That network does double what the NHL playoffs do every night, through new shows & NCIS reruns. Theyve been the #1 cable network in primetime for like 12 straight quarters. They’re not risking that for hockey.

    4) CNBC is a no-brainer for hockey since they have nothing on in primetime.

    5) It wouldn’t surprise me to see Comcast/NBC to use SyFy like Turner used TruTV during the NCAA Tournament. SyFy just recently put on WWE SmackDown on Friday nights. They need people to find the network. Hockey would do that. So I’d see Versus as the #1 option, CNBC for two-game nights and SyFy for the rare three-game nights.

    • Sean says:

      I forgot about the NHL Network. Would that be an option? The NBA puts a couple of “leftover” playoff games on its network.

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