Staggered Start Times Could Be On the Horizon

From Bruce Dowbiggin of The Globe and Mail:

With double overtimes and improbable comebacks, the 2011 playoffs have staggered a lot of people. Usual Suspects has learned that, if the NHL has its way, the 2012 playoffs may be staggered. With the new U.S. broadcast contract allowing NBC and partner Comcast exclusivity over the playoffs, the league wants to take a page from NCAA March Madness and stagger the start times of the games so they don’t all go to intermission at the same time.

Sources say that spacing the start times of games will mean non-stop action for fans – and oblivion for creaky intermission features such as the sweaty player interview and the eccentric analyst in the loud suit. It works perfectly in the early rounds of the annual U.S. college basketball blowout, sending viewers seamlessly from one game to another as a period or half ends. (Plus, you can never get enough of the anthems.) Interruptions from panels and experts are kept to a blessed minimum, and advertisers know fans will not leave the TV for 15 minutes to water the horses or quench their thirst in the kitchen.

There are hurdles to overcome in implementing the format. Canadian broadcasters have to be onside with the plan. CBC, in particular, makes a lot of money from a certain intermission feature, and then there are the constraints of news programming that already resents being punted for the eight weeks of the postseason. Asking Hockey Night in Canada to delay the start of a game for 15 to 20 minutes so NBC and Comcast can start a U.S.-based game would produce political issues in the Mel Hurtig lounge.

Arena availabilities, time-zone issues and team preferences could also be a factor. But the league wants a festival-like feeling around the playoffs and intends to make it happen.

I gotta’ say, the more I think of the Stanley Cup Playoffs positioning itself as a hockey alternative to the NCAA Tournament, the more I like it. I’d totally be on board with something like this. It’d probably be a mess logistically until they got it right, but worth trying.

About Steve Lepore
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9 Responses to Staggered Start Times Could Be On the Horizon

  1. Don’t we already have staggered start times? Most nights when there have been two ET and two MT/PT games in the postseason, one game has started at 7pm ET, another at 7:30pm ET and the late games at 10pm ET and 10:30pm ET. Unless Dowbiggin is suggesting that there will be less off days, then I’m not really sure what he means by all of this.

    Also, staggered start times (even if it means 7:20 or 7:25) wouldn’t really hurt CBC a lot. It could give them more time in between games to show The National. Intermissions are a non-factor in Canada since CBC and TSN usually only have one game at a time and can’t show bonus coverage of the others’ games.

    • Sean says:

      I was thinking the exact same thing.

      • Sean says:

        The scheduling shouldn’t be that hard. Do two games early (7 & 730) and two games late (10 & 1030) for the first round every night. Do quadruple-headers on the weekend. And you’re set.

      • Morgan Wick says:

        Which only works if you have enough West Coast teams that you can do two West Coast games every night. The NHL may want to consider a scheduling paradigm closer to the NBA’s.

  2. Wade says:

    It’s weird that they’re thinking of doing this for next season considering every game will be on TV. If there was ever a time to do it, it would have been under the current contract that’s about expire so that more games had more exposure in the US. For example: A typical Mon-Fri in the 1st round of the playoffs would follow this pattern if applicable, an eastern time zone game starts at 6:00pm. A western conference game that is either eastern time (DET, CBJ), or central time (CHI, DAL, STL, NSH, etc.) starts at 8:30pm, and a west coast game in either mountain/pacific time starts at 11:00pm. Each game gets a 2.5 hour window. I’m sure people would complain that 6:00pm is too early to start a playoff game. Deal with it fans! Also, if a team like Detroit would have to start their games at 8:30, they can’t complain because every Stanley Cup Final game has practically started at that time (8:00pm scheduled start) when you consider the pre-game game interviews, studio talk, etc. I’m surprised a little bit that the NHL didn’t start something like this a couple of years ago to help the exposure in the first round of the playoffs especially for the purpose of US television so that many more games can be shown in their entirity or close to it.

  3. Caps Nut says:

    The problem for CBC is easily solved as the CBC series starts off first. That way Don Cherry can go on at his usual time and be in bed at his usual time too…

  4. Oh God no. Please don’t go to NBA scheduling where you have games starting later than 8pm local time. Yes it happens 4-7 times a year, but the Stanley Cup FInals are different. The problem with the NBA and MLB playoffs is the games are on too late on weekdays. The last thing I was is for the NHL to go down the same road.

    I see virtually no problems with a schedule like the NHL used this year. Remember, the CBC gets double the ratings of Versus, and TSN gets about equal, in a much smaller country. At least up until this year, they paid the bills too. NBC may get first say in playoff scheduling, but after them it is CBC. The last thing CBC wants is games starting at 6pm and 11pm ET. Assuming TSN has the game in between, then what are they supposed to do for the 2 hours there? Also, would this mean we’d be stretching the first round out with only 3 games per night, so that it takes 18 days instead of 15? The playoffs already go late enough.

    The playoff schedule is fine as it is. Next year I see Versus airing games at 7/10 or 7:30/10:30 with CNBC airing games in the other timeslots. On nights when there are 3 games in the ET/CT timezone (which only happened a couple times this year), you simply make throw one over to a 3rd channel.

    • Wade says:

      What I mentioned above is what it would have made sense for Versus to do THIS year and in years past seeing that they can only show 1 game if 2 game both start at the same time. With next years schedule and the years to come having all games on TV in US, no game should start earlier than 7:00 and no later than 10:30 on a weekday. I’m going to love being able to see every game next year for the first time ever!

  5. Mike in Idaho says:

    If the NHL really wants to make a March Madness alternative, they need to go back to rigid playoff brackets instead of reseeding after the first round. Then everyone could make office pools and pick brackets like they do for the NCAAs. In the past, I have run my own NHL playoffs office pools but it’s really annoying to have to explain the seeding procedure to everyone and I think the NHL playoffs/March Madness thing could work if they would change to rigid bracketing.

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