Thursday, April 02, 2009

Friday night is hockey time, according to NBC

Gary Bettman wants to ride that dinosaur known as U.S. network television.

It would be remiss not to acknowledge this spot of news: The schedule for the Stanley Cup final is fraught with problems, as Puck, The Media explains:
"First of all, Games 6 & 7 will air on the same nights as a potential Game 5 & 6 of the NBA Finals on ABC. Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals’ 5 p.m. ET airtime cancels out its challenge with Game 5 of the NBA Championship series, which airs at 8 p.m. ET . But there is that Game 7 on the Tuesday night at close to the same time as an NBA Game 6. How hard will Gary Bettman get hammered when this comes to fruition?

"Another problem. You saw that the Conference Finals will at least be at Game 4 or 5 by May 24th. That means there will be a minimum of six days between a Game 7 of a Conference Final and Game 1 of the Stanley Cup. There could be as many as TWELVE days! And NBC isn’t rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic for what could be one of the biggest weeks in the network’s history."

There are no flies on NBC, which is ramping up for a huge ratings goose in the first week of June, with a lot of season finales scheduled in the build-up to Conan O'Brien taking over as host of The Tonight Show from David Letterman Jay Leno. The Stanley Cup final is pretty penny-ante, plus there's the risk of a multiple-overtime game like the triple-OT classic between the Penguins and Red Wings.

The subtext is that Gary Bettman is still stuck in 1995 or 1975 and believes his sport has to be on U.S. network television. The NHL's contract with NBC is about to run out and this could be read as a low-ball offer. The NHL, as good friend Dan Rowe noted a in a guest post two years ago (it was right after NBC infamously cut away from the overtime of the series-deciding game in the Senators-Buffalo Sabres series), sports are moving away from network television. The NHL never should have given away its product for free just to be one of the Big Three or Four.

Major League Baseball has actually set a good example. It, somewhat by force after the 1994-95 strike, had to wean itself off network television money and look to regional sports networks (RSNs), the Internet and its new in-house MLB Network. Baseball has realized its nichetude and hockey won't. Strange.

Meantime, it sucks as a Canadian and it certainly stinks for CBC Sports, which has been taking hits lately and probably isn't too happy, especially if there is a 10-day layoff. They'll lose a big chunk of their audience with only one Saturday game, plus people might tune out between the conference finals and final is there's too long a gap.

It's not clear where NBC is in terms of wanting hockey. It did well (4.4 million viewers) with the past two Winter Classics, but it probably doesn't like that it's still another six months before league decides a champion. An entire NFL season only takes five!

NBC Sports Stanley Cup Playoff Broadcast Schedule, Who’s Ready For a Surprise? (Steve Lepore, Puck, The Media)

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