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The NHL Is Missing Out

by Dan Gunderson

I have something to admit. I have been wrong about something. I hate to admit it, but it struck me last week that I was wrong. Hockey is a legitimate sport and my constant bashing of it has been uncalled for. Hockey fans can rejoice in the fact that I have been converted.

Watching the NHL Stanley Cup Finals has been more enjoyable then suffering through four one-sided games the NBA Finals have given us. Two OT games, plus a dominating performance by the Boston Bruins over the Chicago Blackhawks Monday night and I’m sold. The NHL has a new fan.

Of course, with any fan, I have an issue with what the NHL is doing. I know it has been a week since I’ve called myself a fan of the NHL hockey but I think my argument has some merit. If the NHL wants to be a respected league and gain new fans, they need to rework their television deal.

Both Game 2 and 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals were only viewable on the NBC Sports Network. The NBCSN is one of those specialty channels that you have when you’re a customer of a large television provider, DirecTV, Comcast, etc… Basic cable packages usually do not carry this channel.

In a day and age of when you can view everything online, many people are going away from buying into these providers because they would rather watch streaming programs. It saves money and frankly, you don’t watch all 100 plus channels available to you with those providers.

NBC, which is the parent of the NBCSN family, has 200 affiliates in 48 states. Chances are you will have NBC come through on the most basic of basic television providers. You could have a TV, a cable and an antenna on your roof. You are going to get NBC programming, albeit it will be fuzzy reception.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, the three overtime marathon that was won by Chicago, was on NBC. Ratings for that game were up 119 percent from last year. The NHL crushed it, to say the least. Game 2 of the Stanley Cup, while setting a record for viewers on the NBCSN, had two million less viewers.

This wasn't because there was a lack of interest after Game 1. In fact, interest was probably massive after Game 1. However, because the NHL signed a deal back in 1995, the coverage switched from a broadcast to cable network.

It blows my mind that the NHL would think this was a good idea even back in ’95. Your reach will be much greater if you keep the entire series on the broadcast network. On the edge fans and even young fans of sports will be hooked by this action if it is readily available for their viewing.

Adults can go to a bar and watch Games 2 and 3 if they don’t have NBCSN in their house. Small children, teenagers and adults not wanting to spend the money cannot. You alienate them in that regard. You don’t get hooked on a television series by watching the series premiere and watching episode four. You miss too much information in between.

The same thing goes for the NHL. You don’t hook fans by allowing them to watch a Game 1 of your best product and saying, “Okay. We will see most of you again in a week for Game 4.”

Another big reason this really hurts the NHL is the markets involved in this series are massive. Chicago is the third largest television market in the nation while Boston is seventh. These types of teams in big markets usually lead to a bigger fan base when they are successful. Think of the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers and the list goes on.

While I understand the NHL’s need to show the sports channel that has showed them the most love some respect, more fans lead to more money. The reason the NFL is so profitable is because it can be viewed by everybody. They can get the average fan from Portland, Maine to become a diehard fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The NHL is missing out on a young fan base and even the on-the-fence fan in smaller markets like Fargo, Sioux Falls and you get the idea. Hockey fans complain the NHL doesn't get the respect it deserves, but they shouldn't blame this on the sports channel giants. Blame it on the NHL for striking a deal that is not up until 2021.