The NHL will be heading in to it's fourth year of it's current 10-year, $2 billion National Television broadcast agreement with the mega-conglomerate Comcast/NBCUniversal. It was a record setting deal struck between the league and a television partner back in April of 2011 that secures the television and media rights through 2020-2021 season.
The League set ratings records in the U.S. with NBC and NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) combining for a 12 percent increase in viewership over a full regular season. For the 2014 post-season, the NHL averaged 621,000 viewers per game through the first 10 games, which was a 61 percent jump from previous season's first 10 post-season games (Forbes).
It has now been a full season and two offseasons since the 2012 lockout that saw only 48 games and the hard salary cap is on the rise. Teams are seeing the benefits of the $2 billion dollars that NBCU is throwing at them. For the first time in a number of years, every franchise has stable ownership and expansion has even been brought up on occasion by the NHL Board of Governors and the media. Sure, there have been some great positives to the league, but I think the overall coverage is still lacking.
For one, NBCSN is still difficult to find for cable and satellite subscribers. Many times the NBC retransmission agreements place what was once the Versus network in a premium tiered package or in a special sports package. This makes it more difficult for the casual viewer to to afford or even find a channel that seems lost in the many channels cable and satellite subscribers already pay for. When a league is looking to reach as many people as it can, the decisions by NBC to primarily use a channel that isn't on a standard package on some of the nation's largest providers is astounding to me.
Secondly, the Stanley Cup Final was only on the NBC flagship channel twice. The NHL's post-season was a far more intriguing post-season than the NBA had to offer (admitted by radio personalities that generally prefer the NBA) featuring story lines and action that kept viewers on the edge of their seats. Yet, the Big Wigs over at NBCU decided to keep the sports culmination, a series that featured the nation's largest markets battling for the championship, to only two whole games on the flagship. A sport that they've spent $2 billion dollars on to cover and then belittle the championship series to a second-rate channel that only the very well-off can afford, not to mention struggle to find.
Thirdly, there's the analysis. That should should be numbers 1, 2, and 3, but the other glaring mistakes that NBCU CEO Steve Burke and NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus let happen are more egregious. Pierre McGuire has a knack for talking without really saying anything. The A-team of Mike "Doc" Emrick, Eddie "Edzo" Olczyk, and McGuire is only saved by Emrick's talent as an elite play-by-play announcer. The broadcast team usually features Emrick and Olczyk in the broadcast booth while Pierre adds an interesting perspective from between the benches. Problem is, is that he often gives trivial, useless information about players while mispronouncing names. Olczyk was clearly flummoxed when Balckhawks were eliminated, and Pierre was struggling to find ways to mention Sidney Crosby after the Penguins were finally trounced out of the playoffs.
This is without even mentioning the guys back in the studio for intermission. Viewers are subjected to the inane ramblings of Mike - freakin' - Milbury and Keith Jones. Is this the best NBC can get? They offer very little to the broadcast that I would rather watch a dopey 35 year old guy try his best at the Shoot-A-Puck game and miss during intermission than those two. Then there was Jeremy Roenick. By all accounts, a really decent guy, but a terrible analyst. The only thing he knew about the Wild in the series versus the Blackhawks was how to say Erik Haula's name in sing-song fashion.
Fourth, NBC could not master the game switch in the home markets when games would overlap. During the first round of the playoffs, there was a game that went into overtime that ended up delaying the game being played in Minnesota. With the already grueling late nights the Stanley Cup Playoffs provide with multiple overtimes, delaying the games the home fans actually wanted to watch eventually ended in the wee hours of the morning. Rather than start the game and break the coverage from the previous game still in play in those markets with the teams playing, they just delayed the start instead. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed tweeting, drinking beer, and cheering with all of you during the games, but the fact that the only thing you could bet on with the NBC playoff coverage was that the game would never start on time.
"NBC Sports and Comcast have been fantastic partners," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said upon the announcement of the deal. "They have provided incredible coverage of our sport and have teamed with us to deliver the best TV viewership figures in three decades.
Sure, the there has been an increase in ratings and viewership, but don't you think it could be so much more? Outside of the NHL Game of the Week, or Rivalry Night, NBC does very little to provide other programming about the NHL or hockey in general. NBC botched the 2014 Draft by switching to a pre-recorded rowing event instead of showing the final three selections of the draft. The post-game coverage after the Los Angeles Kings clinched the Stanley Cup was moved from the flagship to NBCSN. For this year's NHL free agency period, the viewer was forced to find the NHL Network (which was a TSN SportCentre simulcast) to keep track of the free agent frenzy. The TSN TradeCentre during the NHL trade deadline is also only found on the NHL Network here in the United States. You would think that the Network's anchor sport would require at least a little bit of consideration when fans want to be in the know.
I enjoy that I can watch all of the playoff games because NBC can leverage its wide array of channels to broadcast games simultaneously. I enjoy the NBC Live Extra App that I can download to my tablet and phone and I can essentially watch anywhere I want. I enjoy the overall production value of an NBC broadcast, but there are serious short-comings in the coverage that are not seen with the other major sports.