Hey, everyone. It’s Dan Mount and I’m here with the Tuesday NHL headlines. Today we’ll talk about how the National Hockey League can make itself more marketable with commercials, programming and television deals.
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Since the Canadian television deal was announced in late November, I’ve been thinking about the potential United States TV deal that will come up in 2021. (I know it’s a long way off, but the Canadian deal got me thinking.) The deal got me thinking on what the league could do about raising its profile in the eyes of the American public.
This conversation also came up when I made an appearance on the show NHL on the Ice with host Bryan Yates and his panel. When I was first waiting to come on air, the group was discussing what could be done to get more people to give hockey a shot. They came up with some interesting stuff that I’ll talk about later in the column.
Of the four major sports, even hockey acknowledge that it is fourth in the rating of professional team sports. (It could be even lower if you count college football and basketball along with NASCAR.) There’s no secret that the league wants to get more eyes on it. I have a couple of suggestions that may work.
A secondary TV deal
I know that NBC Universal and Comcast have really improved their coverage of the NHL. I remember the first games on the Outdoor Life Network were a bit of a mess, but things kept improving after the rebrands to Versus, NBC Sports Network and finally NBCSN. They’ve really studied Canadian TV outlets like TSN and CBC on how to make coverage better.
As good of a job as they are doing, I do think the NHL would be wise to add a secondary partner. They are the only major pro sport to have only one network (besides the league-owned NHL Network) to have just one network carry games. MLB has Fox Sports and ESPN carry national games. The NBA has ESPN and Turner Sports, while the NFL has CBS, ESPN, NBC and Fox carry games. (Heck, even MLS has NBC and ESPN as dual partners.)
The main thing is going to be the upcoming NBA deal. Fox Sports will make a play to take a big chunk out of ESPN’s top position as the number one sports network. After that deal is settled, we’ll find out more about what the other networks will do.
ESPN and the NHL have a well-documented frosty relationship between each other after the two parties parted ways in 2006. That acrimony could end if the NBA goes to FS1. I’m sure ESPN would love to find another programming source besides college basketball if the NBA does split.
FS1 would be a good spot because they have knowledgeable staff like Dan O’Toole and Jay Onrait, who worked at TSN. They’ve been doing a good job about being fair to the sport unlike some other outlets. Fox had covered hockey back in the day. (Remember that awful glowing puck.) I know they have UFC, soccer and Big East basketball, but I’d love to see how they do with it.
Let’s also not forget CBS Sports Network. They don’t have many properties. (Mountain West sports, the NCHC college hockey conference and other things.) However, their Eye on Hockey website is one of the better websites out there. It would also mean the network is serious about being a real competitor in the sports TV market.
I don’t know the specifics of if there can be a secondary partner, but it could be something the league could do because the other network would feel obligated to feature it a little more in the highlights/
Memorable TV spots
As I said earlier, I was a guest on NHL on the Ice with Bryan Yates and they talked about an idea for a spot. They had an idea for Nashville Predators defenseman Seth Jones choosing hockey over basketball. (A sport in which his dad, Popeye, played.) I figured they could do a spot where they have Jones shooting pucks at a backboard or checking players into the benches.
Hockey does a great job with humor. (Watch the San Jose Sharks Christmas party video and the Canucks ugly Christmas sweater family photo.) The old ESPN spots when they carried hockey were fantastic. Hockey can play off its humorous self to get some people to look at the game.
NHL and HBO has made a great thing happen with 24/7 and the other series that CBC and the NHL will produce for the other outdoor games and Sochi. They do a great job producing in-house programming. I’d like to see more of that stuff and try to get it onto other outlets.
Hockey is a great sport, but I feel it doesn’t get its due because of some of the perceptions about the game and the lack of coverage from some outlets. I feel it can raise its profile and make a run at a firmer place in the top four.
Dan Mount is an NHL and college football columnist for TJRSports.com. He is based out of Watertown NY.