It took NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood less than two minutes into a conference call on Monday to utter the name of Connor McDavid.
Eight words later, Flood mentioned Auston Matthews.
Flood’s employer is going to ride the two young NHL stars in the opening round of the playoffs and that’s a good thing for the sport, given McDavid, the 20-year-old star center for the Edmonton Oilers, and Matthews, the 19-year-old star center for the Maple Leafs, give the NBC Sports Group its best chance for increased viewership of the sport down the road, even with both players on Canadian teams.
If you are fan of the NHL, as I am, you likely believe that the sport’s postseason is the most exciting viewing of all the major sports. Unfortunately, not enough sports television viewers agree. Last April 18, Sports Business Daily assistant managing editor Austin Karp tweeted out a not surprising yet eye opening stat about the opening rounds: Alabama’s spring game on ESPN (0.6 overnight rating) topped all the NHL payoff games on cable TV that weekend.
The 2016 Stanley Cup Final—pitting small market Pittsburgh against small market San Jose—averaged just four million viewers and a 2.3 household rating, making it the third lowest-rated Final since 2006. According to Anthony Crupi of Ad Age, the adults 18-to-49 demographic for the 2016 Stanley Cup declined 22% to a 1.4 from the previous year.
The good news for NBC? They should see some upticks this year, especially in the first round given the excellent matchups.
“What’s great for the U.S. is great hockey and great stars,” Flood said during the call to hype his network’s coverage. “It doesn’t matter where they play. It matters that we get to showcase them and we put a number of games on this year with Auston Matthews. We’ve put two on with Connor McDavid. So we’re out to build these stars and change the way you watch hockey.”
NBC Sports’s NHL playoff coverage also has something significantly new for the opening round: The NBC-produced games will air side-by-side alongside regional sports network game telecasts. That means you can watch the games either your local broadcast (if you live in an NHL city) or via NBC, NBCSN, USA Network, CNBC and the NHL Network. Prior to this season, the games the NBC Sports Group aired nationally in the first round were blacked out in all local U.S. markets. NBC said local television and streaming blackouts will still apply in Boston and Pittsburgh in the first round.
“The fans can still watch their local telecast, if they want,” Flood said. “If they’re a hardcore Capitals fan, stay on the local telecast. If you’re out of town or living in Washington, you get to watch the national broadcast. It’s the perfect world. It satisfies the local fan, but gives the national brand an opportunity to play into every market. That will work out great. It’s good that the league was able to work out this new plan, and I think it’s a win for the fans. It will be a lot less confusing where the games are and when these local blackouts hit, which at times made people a little bit unaware of where to go. Now you know where to go. We like that. Simplicity is a good thing.”
The network said in order to televise as many as five games on a night during the first round, NBC Sports will utilize the networks of NBC, NBCSN, NHL Network, USA Network, and CNBC. (NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app will live stream all games airing on NBC, NBCSN, USA Network and CNBC, all via “TV Everywhere.”) Here is the opening round TV schedule through next Wednesday.
Regarding the studio coverage, NBC said on most nights of the first round, the NBC Sports Group will produce two versions of NHL Live (one for NBCSN, one for USA Network and CNBC) from separate studios at its International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Conn. NHL Live will feature a combination of hosts Liam McHugh, Kathryn Tappen, and Paul Burmeister, and analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones, Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter. (As someone who has watched a lot of NHL Network this year given my interest in the Maple Leafs, I happen to prefer the NHL Network’s studio coverage over NBC’s; both will do the job.)
NBC’s channels will have exclusivity starting with the second round of the playoffs and continuing through the Stanley Cup Final. NBCSN will serve as the primary home for second-round coverage, offering one or two games every night. USA Network and CNBC will provide live coverage in primetime. NBC, NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app will air exclusive coverage of the Eastern and Western Conference Finals.
The Stanley Cup Final will air on NBC for Game 1, Game 4, and Games 5-7 (if necessary). NBCSN will televise Games 2 and 3.
One interesting subtext to this year’s NHL playoffs is the reemergence of the Canadian franchises in the postseason. Both the New York Times and Globe and Mail recently did pieces on what the return of five Canadian teams to the playoffs will mean for Rogers Media. (Disclosure: I appear on Sportsnet 590 every week, which is owned by Rogers.) Via David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail: CBC, Sportsnet and the other networks carrying Rogers’ national hockey package already saw increases this year after a 16% decline in each of the first two seasons of the 12-year, $5.2-billion national broadcast deal that Rogers made with the NHL.
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. The Masters drew 11.05 million viewers on CBS for its final round coverage. According to Sports Media Watch, the viewership was down 11% from last year (12.4M) and 22% from 2015 (14.2M). The 6.8 rating tied as the lowest for final round coverage of The Masters since 1980 (6.7), matching 1993. The site said that since Nielsen began measuring Masters ratings 60 years ago, only three final rounds have posted a lower rating—1980, 1961 (6.1) and 1957 (3.0). Check out Sports Media Watch for more Masters ratings data.
2. For my Sunday column, I proposed something that will never happen: If CBS Sports wants to set its NFL broadcasting group up for the best possible long-term success, it would move the team of Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts into its No. 1 spot for the 2017 NFL season and let Jim Nantz and Tony Romo handle the games usually assigned to the No. 2 crew. Here’s why.
3. Via John Ourand of the Sports Business Daily: Hard Knocks will remain on HBO for at least the next four seasons. Ourand reported HBO Sports, NFL Media and NFL Films signed a long-term deal to keep the reality series on the network. The Tampa Bay Tribunereported the Bucs believe they are among the top candidates to be chosen for HBO’s Hard Knocks.
4. Episode 112 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features the Canadian sports broadcaster Bob McCown, the host of the long-running Prime Time Sports show on Sportsnet 590 The FAN.
In this podcast, McCown discusses what sports talk radio is like in Canada; what he considers underrated and overrated skills in interviewing; how one adjusts to a new co-host; whether he remains engaged in his job after 30-plus years; his very public spat with former Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston; the popularity of sports in Toronto; why he does not like interviewing athletes; his longtime relationship with Muhammad Ali; the time the late Bear Bryant gave him an Alabama jacket from his closet; how much longer he wants to continue in his role; how he would define his audience; the role of TV in sports radio; the art of short questions in an interview; the prospect of multiple sports teams in Las Vegas and whether those teams can be successful; what makes Toronto in an interesting sports talk market and much more.
You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.
5. CBS Sports Radio said it would launch a new weeknight show, “Reiter Than You,” hosted by Bill Reiter. The show will air from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. ET and debuts April 17.
5a. Best-selling author James Andrew Miller—the author of best-selling oral histories of Saturday Night Live, ESPN and CAA—will debut a new podcast this summer called “Origins,” which will focus on the beginnings of everything, from sports, politics, pop culture and business, via the people who were present at the creation.
5b. The MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas and Robert Klemko wrote a fantastic piece on how the investigation for Tim Brady’s stolen Super Bowl jersey spanned thousands of miles, involved two nations and unfolded against the backdrop of a tense geopolitical drama. And the culprit might never spend a night in jail.