Radical Realignment Could Boost Local, National Television Numbers for NHL
December 5, 2011 12 Comments
The Dallas Stars currently play 20 games a year (at Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Anaheim in division, and at Colorado, Vancouver, Calgary and Colorado in the Northwest) in which start times could easily be at latest 9:30 p.m. central time. That’s one full quarter of your schedule beginning after young children – the people you want to sink your marketing claws into and make devotees for life in a difficult, football dominated market – have gone to sleep, with little care as to what the local hockey team is doing.
If the radical realignment proposed by commissioner Gary Bettman goes through, that would conceivably drop the number of games starting after 9 p.m. CT to eight per season, which would be the same as every other team that plays in the central and eastern time zones. Really, there’s no reason that this shouldn’t go through, beyond the shortsidedness and greed of some eastern owners. In the end, it is good for the game on television, a medium that is paying the league $2 billion over the next year, not counting the hundreds of millions being made off of regional television contracts. It’s also good for revenues. The Florida teams get more snowbird audiences, while Carolina and Washington get a heaping dose of New York and Philly transplants, while everyone else stays with their rivals. Money should do the talking here.
Here’s the screenshot via Puck Daddy of what the NHL could look like next year:
All of those divisions look pretty nasty to me. From my perspective, here’s my only real problem with what’s been proposed. Divisional playoffs would return, meaning the top four teams from each division – which, to me, is unfair. Make it the top three, and then the next best four teams are wild cards assigned to conference winners based on record. Also, make sure you don’t name the new conferences based on geography, we wouldn’t want an MLS-esque problem of having a team from New York win the Western Conference (Seriously, that happened) – would make the playoffs. This means that the Penguins and Capitals, Red Wings and Blackhawks, Flames and Oilers, Rangers and Devils, Flyers and Penguins can never meet in a conference final. Worth thinking about a Stanley Cup Playoffs that would never feature Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin in the final four together.
Otherwise, here’s what I like about realignment:
- The re-seeded Final Four. The NHL would re-seed the four conference winners, 1-4 and 2-3. It’d likely mean one less banner to hang up (or one more, considering you’d have four conference champions) and the end of the Prince of Wales Trophy and the Campbell Bowl, but who really cares about those? You’d reward the best regular season teams even further by ensuring they get the (conceivably) most advantageous conference final match-up. Sure, you’d have some stinker final fours each year, but you could potentially one day see a Pittsburgh-Detroit, Toronto-Vancouver Final Four, appeasing networks both above and below the border to no end.
- National Television schedules improve. The NHL has already made it so that all the Canadian teams play each other twice a year, but the new schedules would mean CBC and TSN could divvy up two visits to Toronto and Montreal per year from Detroit, Pittsburgh, New York and Chicago, while giving extra meaning to those always highly-rated all-Canadian match-ups. For VERSUS/NBCSN/NBC, the regular season battles between the Rangers and Flyers and Blackhawks and Red Wings and Penguins and Caps now mean even more with the knowledge that they’re likely going to have to get through each other in the post-season. The NHL has been trying to convince casual fans for years that the regular season matters. Divisional playoffs will help.
- The obvious help for local TV ratings out West. A rivals-heavy schedule, plus two games against everyone else, will only help the teams in non-traditional markets and out West. The LA Kings get to promote six match-ups with cross-town rival Anaheim, plus two games against Pittsburgh and Washington each. So does every other team. These are the games that both local fans and transplants tune into. Sure, they’ll also see Detroit two fewer times on the schedule, but it’s certainly worth it to get Toronto, New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington twice instead of once, which is the case in most years.
- A “simple” Detroit to the East swap would decimate Western TV exposure. If you put the Red Wings in the East in a trade for Winnipeg, you take 8-10 national television appearances away from Western Conference teams that are already precious few. During the regular season, the NHL On NBC hasn’t aired a game of a team west of Minnesota since 2008. They haven’t aired a game from a team west of Dallas since 2007. Putting Detroit in the East just further isolates those teams from big-time exposure, and continues the knock on the NHL and it’s television partners for only promoting it as an east coast league.
There are a lot of reasons to stick with the status quo, but to me, the benefits of giving every team an even playing field in terms of television ratings and attendance makes too much sense. Plus, the Stanley Cup Playoffs – the greatest sports tournament on earth – would become even more intense, with match-ups guaranteed to be built on rivalries fought and bled for in the regular season. The sense I get from people seems to be that Commissioner Bettman will push this through. I hope he does.