Sunday, May 20, 2007

Another broadcasting embarrassment for the NHL

They say you get what you pay for, so in the case of NHL hockey on NBC, it's safe to assume that the NHL isn't paying much. At least that's the impression you get, considering the way that NBC treated the NHL on Saturday.

Saturday's Buffalo - Ottawa game five showdown had the unfortunate nerve to go into overtime, a scenario that apparently did not fit into NBC's plans as the American network uncermeoniously dumped the Sabres and Sens for the ponies.

With the NHL on NBC apparently straying over its allotted time, the broadcast found itslef shuffled off to Versus, a move that it seems left more than a few hockey fans ditched just as the most exciting part of the playoff match was set to begin.

NBC chose to bail out on the hockey game because it was going to interfere in its pre Preakness horse race interviews and such. Not the actual race mind you just the preample to the ramble.

It's another mess for the NHL and it's every confusing approach to hockey broadcasting, it's bad enough that Canada which provides a fair advertising return for the offerings of the NHL has had to reschedule their viewing habits to keep NBC happy, but now even that seemingly wasn't enough.

In most professionally run sporting leagues, your highest profile games tend to be played in prime time, the audience theoretically is at its largest and thus your advertising revenue should likewise be more profitable.

For the NHL, prime time for a second round playoff showdown was 2 pm on a Saturday, 11 am if you're a hockey fan in BC. This despite the fact that NBC's nightime schedule on a Saturday night features programs that ran earlier in the week, Dateline and Law And Order episodes that are repeated for those that missed them.

Maybe the folks at Law and Order can investigate the problem and find out what happened in those last ten minutes of the hockey game, who knows, somebody may actually want to know how the game ended!

The abandoned game was given much attention overnight, some of which we provide below.

Heidi of Hockey
Sens Sabres snubbed by NBC
When bad things happen to good hockey games

Sports Illustrated's Allan Muir was quick to the word processor with a blistering examniation of the NHL's embarrassing day.

Pulling pucks for ponies
NBC's choice to abandon OT clincher embarrasses NHL
Posted: Sunday May 20, 2007 1:41AM;

Updated: Sunday May 20, 2007 1:41AM
Allan Muir
Sports Illustrated

No joke. I get a call this afternoon from a buddy of mine, livid about NBC's decision to dump overtime of the elimination game between Buffalo and Ottawa onto Versus.

"I can't believe it," he moaned. "They cut off the strongman competition I was watching for a stinkin' hockey game!"

I had to laugh. After the kick to the gut American fans got today, it's nice to know there's at least one sport lower on the broadcast totem pole.

Even blessed with that perspective, Saturday afternoon's channel-hopping debacle caused by NBC choosing the Preakness pre-race show over playoff OT wasn't easy for the league or its fans to stomach. And it's not just that NBC made the decision to cut away at the end of regulation. If the race was coming up, you'd have to begrudgingly understand the move. But there were 20 minutes left in the broadcast window when they made the call. So while Buffalo's season was coming to a jarring end over on Versus, NBC was in the midst of more than an hour's worth of pre-race blather.

At least some of us had access to Versus when the switch was made. I spent most of the extra frame on the phone with a Sabres fan stuck in a hotel room in California who was left in the lurch. No doubt there were tens of thousands of viewers just like him across the country. We'll know for sure when the ratings come out this week.

The disparity between those two numbers should open some eyes at NHL headquarters.
There's no way around it. This was an epic embarrassment for the league. A conference final elimination game dropped for talk about a horse that died last year and the weather at Pimlico.
Not that we shouldn't have seen this coming. The real surprise, given how common overtime is in the postseason, is that it took this long.

Just don't make out NBC as the villain here. While they could have held out for the extra 20 minutes, their position is defensible. After all, the Peacock Network pays a hefty sum for the rights to the highly rated Preakness. They simply share ad revenue for the rights to NHL games, and since there are no TV timeouts in OT, that's not a tough decision to make.

No, this one falls squarely on the sagging shoulders of the NHL. Instead of saving Saturday nights for Hockey Night In Canada, they've bent over backwards to provide NBC with the games it wants at the times it wants. And in giving NBC this game at this time with the hard deadline of the Preakness staring them in the face, they made the wrong decision.

Of course, this whole thing reminds me of something the commissioner told me just a couple weeks ago. I asked Gary Bettman about overtime games on NBC, and if there was any concern voiced by the network about the potential length of games.

"That's a discussion I've had with them," Bettman said, "so that's not an issue for the Finals."
Well, Gary, safe to say it's an issue now.

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