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NHL needs more network respect

June 5, 2012

Old people, an inevitably shitty sitcom and a two episodes of whichever Law & Order spinoff airs on Wednesdays. That is what will be appearing, nation-wide, on NBC tomorrow evening. Meanwhile, on NBC Sports Network, you can potentially watch the Los Angeles Kings end a franchise-long Stanley Cup drought with a series sweep of the New Jersey Devils.

Who wouldn’t want to watch an old people version of Punk’d?

In case, you haven’t heard, ratings for this year’s Cup Finals are down compared to the last few seasons. There are plenty of determining factors here. New Jersey has fallen behind fast, the Kings are a tough draw for anyone East of the Mississippi and the Devils are also far behind that of a team like Boston in terms of market share.  There has also been the arguments made for the lack of star power in the series. While that isn’t inaccurate, I don’t think it is a primary reason for the lack of attention. Think about it, the Bruins and Canucks don’t have any stars that register on a national level in the US either.While there isn’t one thing to blame, you could certainly point to the lack of access for those who do wish to watch the series. Starting on a weekday and then transitioning to the weekend opened a big game between games one and two and with games three and four being shown on NBC Sports Network, there isn’t much room for improvement.

One thing that isn’t different is the impact being made in the participating cities. While New Jersey has dwindled with their team, LA is building more steam as the Cup gets closer to their grasp. My argument that individual success in big markets is drumming up interest in the sport hasn’t changed. It is just the impact nationally that hasn’t improved this season. Perhaps if the NBC family realized that bumping a potential deciding game to a cable network only a fraction of the country has would be a major mistake. What is particularly pathetic is that the Finals will be pre-empted on the main network by yet another silly lineup of network shows.

After American Ninja Warrior and Grimm kept their slot on Monday, Off Their Rockers, Up All Night and a pair of Law & Order episodes will remain on NBC tomorrow evening while the potential clinching game of the Stanley Cup will be played on cable. It is no secret that the NHL still has a ways to go in order to reclaim part of the national spotlight, but things like this aren’t helping.

One thing that is probably misunderstood is that the NHL is one of the only sports that really runs into this problem. The NFL doesn’t have any sort of programming that sees network minutes during the week. Baseball gets their network spots for the playoffs and World Series, but the regular season is basically kept to cable. The same goes for the NBA, only are the biggest games of the year bumping network lineups. However, the NHL needs to be part of this party.

Obviously NBC has given them a vote of confidence, now NBC needs to put their money where their mouth is. There is really no reason why the shows that ran Monday and tomorrow couldn’t be shifted back a week while these games played. In fact, the NHL could even use some of their stars to advertise for the games that were going to play.

What the first step needs to be is the inclusion of NHL programming on USA Network for the playoffs. In case you haven’t noticed, the NBA (a made for TV sport) is all over TBS and TNT on a yearly basis for the playoffs. Of course, ESPN also loves all over the league too, giving a ton of exposure to basketball and all the well-spoken gentlemen who play the game. Suffice it to say that there is far more exposure given by those channels to anyone with basic cable compared to channels that often appear on more in-depth TV packages.

USA is part of the NBC family. I can almost assure you that Olympic events will appear on the channel, obviously there is the ability to show sports on the channel. There is enough flexibility with USA Network that playoff games in the first three rounds could appear on the channel in addition to NBCSN and NBC (CNBC if necessary), thus increasing the number of eyes on the sport. Lastly, you could piggy back on what was done with CNBC and use the stars of USA’s shows to advertise that hockey will be shown on the network.

It is clear that the proper steps are being taken to get more hockey on TV on a regular basis. Hopefully as interest in the league and game grows, as will NBC’s willingness to bump their average, mindless programming for the Finals will improve.

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