You know we’ve reached the depths of summer when the announcement of the national TV schedule, which doesn’t start for another three months or so, is basically the only news of the day. And once again, just as they are every year, the Hawks are in the middle of all of it.
The Hawks will appear 21 times on either NBC or NBCSN this season, most of any team. This is nothing new nor really all that controversial. The Hawks remain the league’s most popular and recognizable team. Of course NBC is going to center their coverage around them in search of ratings they’ll probably never get. But this always starts a raging debate about how the league markets itself.
It goes beyond the Hawks of course. The Bruins will appear 17 times, and the Bruins just aren’t very good. But they’re a recognizable name. The Flyers appear 20 times, and they’re the very definition of middling. The Rangers are on 15 times, and they’re even more middling. The Wild appear 12 times, and yet here we still are in Middling-ville. The Caps 14 times, but at least they’re good.
NBC execs would tell you they have to do it this way because no one is tuning in to watch the Panthers and Predators, even though those will actually be two very interesting teams to watch this season. NBC almost certainly has to rely on local viewership, whereas the NBA can throw on just about anyone on TNT or ESPN and basketball fans will tune in from wherever to see DeMarcus Cousins or Damian Lillard, to name to two stars who play in faraway locations.
The problem is how does the league turn teams like the Panthers or Hurricanes (another interesting team to watch) into teams that more than just the hardcore want to watch? It seems it would be tricky to do if they’re not on national TV at all. Connor McDavid won’t appear on NBC at all. How’s that work? Auston Mathews will appear once, and that will be opposite an NFL Sunday.
At some point here, the NHL and NBC are going to have to take some measure of a leap of faith here. We’re some of the biggest hockey fans around, and even we recoil when Flyers-Rangers is on NBCSN for the fourth time in a couple months.
I feel like NBC is just chasing the wrong thing. We still have the main showcase as “Rivalry Night,” because what they want to market is passion, hatred, grit, and though they’d never admit it, violence. Because that’s how hockey still thinks of itself. And you know, you can still do that while making the Wednesday slot more of a “Game Of The Week” feature. We know it’s the one they schedule the hardest, it comes at the 7 pm primetime slot with the hour pregame. But as a “Rivalry Night,” you kind of lock yourself in to certain matchups. Or you get laughed at as we do when they try and claim Hawks-Caps works as one.
The Wednesday night slot should be used to feature every team and every game given a full week of buildup in promotion that they use now to show old clips of Hawks and Blues fighting. If you had the Oilers on a Wednesday night, and you say no one will care about watching that, then use your promotion and marketing teams to show everyone why they need to tune in to see McDavid. Ditto Seguin and Benn in Dallas, who only appear four times. Fuck, they’ve basically ruined this World Cup so they can have a team full of young stars that they could then parlay into interest during the regular season if they weren’t in such a rush to show us the Bruins.
If you think about it, there really aren’t that many teams that have simply nothing going for them. Even the Yotes have some good young players and won’t be all that bad, but we’ll put them on there for yuks. The Canucks have nothing. But the Flames do. The Oilers have McDavid. The Jets if nothing else have probably the loudest building in the league. The Leafs will have Mathews, Marner, and Nylander. The Senators have nothing.
Really your list of absolutely no appeal to anyone is Sens, Canucks, and… that’s it. A decent marketing team could make things work with just about every other team.
The NHL and NBC can’t have it both ways. They can’t say we only have a few marketable teams, and then do nothing to add to that list.
-At the very least, the Hawks will only have one of those affront-to-nature 11:30 starts, the now yearly one with the Bruins toward the end of the season. The NBC schedule is pretty hilarious, where only the Kings and Stars bust the normal, Chicago-Detroit-Philly-New York-Boston axis of power. And they each only do it once (to be fair, the Hawks are only on NBC twice, and one is the Winter Classic). West coast teams are fucked when it comes to NBC because they’re not moving around their golf coverage. Same as it ever was.