Saturday, March 31, 2007

NHL reups with NBC

While the numbers aren't astronomical, they are showing a bit of promise for NBC, enough for them to sign up for another year of the game of the week.

Last week was a bit of a watershed mark for the NHL, as in head to head competition they slightly beat out the NBA featuring Phoenix and Sacramento.

And while its a long ways to go before the big numbers roll in, NBC is banking on the star power of the young guns of the NHL to help build up a faitfhul Sunday audience.

Susan Bickelhaupt of The Boston Globe looked further into the small upswing in the NHL's fortunes on mainstream TV.

NBC approach to NHL flexible
By Susan Bickelhaupt,
Globe Staff
March 30, 2007

Despite the less than stellar ratings the NHL has produced for NBC, the network renewed its agreement for next season, with an option in 2008-09. And maybe because of those ratings, NBC will add a feature -- flex scheduling.

Taking a cue, and the name, from a wrinkle it introduced for its NFL telecasts last season, NBC can opt to feature a Game of the Week for a national audience, supplemented by two regional broadcasts.

NBC, in the second year of its revenue-sharing agreement with the NHL, airs nine regular-season games.

"When the NHL puts its schedule out, there will be a minimum of three games per NBC weekend identified as potential national games," said Ken Schanzer, president of NBC Sports. "Thirteen days before the telecast date, we'll make a selection of one of those games to be the Game of the Week."

It will air on Sunday afternoons. The other games will be eligible for the regional carriage and probably air at night, he said.

"This gives us an opportunity, on a weekly basis, to pick the best available game and bring it to a national audience," Schanzer said. "And this is a good time to do it, because the league has some emerging stars, and this will give us an opportunity to focus on those stars as they demonstrate how much of a contribution they're making to their clubs.

"The leading name is Sidney Crosby, a player who's captivated the public's imagination, who came into the league with an enormous reputation, and has succeeded in living up to it. That's demonstrated both in terms of the kind of audience that we get when he's on, that Versus gets, and the kind of excitement you see in a community when the Penguins come to town."

Schanzer believes the new feature could boost ratings.

"Well, we hope it will," he said. "That's its genesis."

When NBC's Stanley Cup telecast went head to head with the NBA on ABC last May 6, ABC had a 4.3 rating, NBC an 0.9. But on Wikipedia, NBC said the ratings were about what it expected.

And NBC has rebounded.

Last Sunday's NBA game on ABC between the Phoenix Suns and the Sacramento Kings earned a 1.0 rating and 2 share, an all-time low. The previous low was March 31, 2004 (Dallas-New Jersey, 1.1).

In comparison, the NHL on NBC (Bruins vs. Penguins) earned a 1.0/3 and edged the NBA in viewers (1.31 million to 1.26 million).

ABC reportedly is paying the NBA $400 million per year, while the NHL is paying nothing because of revenue-sharing.

Schanzer said high-profile games will add to NBC's array of big events.

"We went into the season wanting to renew [the contract]," he said. "First of all, we love the sport. Second, we think it fits with our roster of events -- the Olympics, the NFL, Notre Dame football, Wimbledon, the Kentucky Derby, the US Open, the Stanley Cup. They're all big events, major events in their sport, so this will be one of the things that will allow us to extend the NHL."

Versus, the cable home of the NHL, will air the majority of playoff action starting April 11. It will carry the first two games of the Cup finals, NBC the rest. In the first round, Versus will cover 15-20 games, depending on the length of each. The same will be true for the next round, beginning April 25. All games will be in high definition and, when feasible, Versus will simulcast games from Canadian networks.

No comments: