NBC and VERSUS Continue to Do Right By Hockey with 2011-12 Schedule
August 22, 2011 5 Comments
I got on a lot of people’s cases last year when it came to NBC. That was a season in which the Rangers and Flyers – for much of the country (one of the Rangers/Flyers games only showed in 50% of the nation due to regional coverage) – played each other three times. When NBC, as a network, had 11 timeslots in which they showed hockey last year, and more than 25% of them contained the same match-up, it’s simply not serving hockey fans well.
The other big problem I had was that NBC would put what I refer to as “patsy games” up against major market showdowns, making almost a joke of the flex scheduling arrangement. It is an insult to fans of Tampa Bay and St. Louis to see their game held on to NBC up until two weeks before the game so they can officially take Penguins/Capitals. Flex scheduling is a minor inconvenience to fans with a ticket, but don’t make it one in markets that you have no intention of showing hockey games to.
NBC has gone a long way toward rectifying their problems. While flex scheduling remains, the network will instead show the game they choose not to flex on NBC Sports Network later in the day. Also, the “patsy games” have been eliminated. In many of the weeks in which NBC and NBCSN will have a flex game (three games are non-flex due to their being only one choice, while one other week will partake in the old school way of sending the lesser game back to the RSNs) there are two solid, major market choices. The better of the two games airs on NBC, the secondary goes to NBCSN. The final day of the season, the best game gets on NBC, the two next best ones create a doubleheader on NBCSN, and the least important goes back to the RSNs, where it’ll probably belong.
Hockey Day in America continuing is another improvement. This season, the games will get more western teams involved, even if for St. Louis, Chicago and San Jose they will be morning telecasts. Boston-Minnesota is an excellent choice if you’re choosing to showcase hockey across the country. You’ll have to hope the Wild are still hanging around in February to get the full effect, but it’s a very good call to try and give Minnesota the national spotlight. You’ve gotta’ figure that once that team figures it out and becomes a perennial contender they’ll be featured on NBC more often. Same with St. Louis, a team that draws some of the best local numbers in hockey. One complaint: the triple-header game on NBCSN takes place in Montreal, with the Devils facing the Habs. Couldn’t get an American team at home for that?
It is petty, however, to complain much about what NBC Sports Group is doing as far as scheduling. The network that will be known as NBC Sports Network come January will finally become the home for hockey on a nightly basis that NHL fans probably dreamed it could be when the league signed with OLN back in 2005, to get the sport away from being marginalized on ESPN. The best teams and biggest markets are going to combine to get the most games. The fact is, they are stretching out west and south, even if those teams are on the road. Anaheim gets six games on VERSUS/NBCSN, Dallas has seven, Los Angeles has five, Minnesota has nine, San Jose has five, and Tampa has a remarkable 10 games on the network.
The teams are one thing, the number of games are another. Hockey three nights a week nationally. Combine the NHL Network (if you get it) and NBC come January, and there will long stretches where every night features a hockey game nationally. January 10-25 will feature 16 straight days of nationally televised NHL games, with 20 airing during the stretch. From March 24th through the end of the season, NHL Network, NBC or NBCSN will be airing at least a game. Every week from January on will feature live hockey on NBCSN from Sunday-Wednesday. That’s almost magical-sounding after living through many years of only Monday/Tuesdays on OLN/VERSUS.
Give credit to VERSUS/NBCSN for attempting to make some other changes. Hockey Central becoming NHL Live shows that the network is looking to re-tool it’s at times unceasingly boring studio show a bit (for the record, I’ve asked some folks if NHL Live on NHL Network will go through a name change, and I will let you know when there is a definitive answer). Mike Emrick, Dave Strader, Pierre McGuire, Jeremy Roenick and others becoming full-time employees shows an even further extended commitment to the game, and it shows that they’re willing to go after top flight talent. Though it had flaws, NHL Overtime needs to exist. Not everyone gets NHL Network, and it is good that NHL On the Fly has a competitor.
We are probably not done seeing the full extent of the change NBC Sports Group wants to make. This will be a process that likely won’t be completed until at least next year, when the network grabs a full season under it’s belt as NBCSN, has attempted to launch some shows, and starts it’s MLS coverage as summertime filler. By next fall, an NFL package could populate the early fall months and serve as a great launching pad for hockey. The point is, this is a start. But it is a hell of a start if you can throw 90 games at me and just flat out show me some hockey every night. That’s really all we want.