Smart move by NBC?

26Mar07

I’ll admit, I haven’t watched too much of NBC’s coverage this season. Not that I don’t think it’s good, it’s just the time slot doesn’t always work with my weekend plans. This weekend, I settled in to catch some of the Bruins and Pens and, right on cue, the Pens started kicking the crap out of the Bruins.

When it was 4-0, NBC did something that I haven’t seen before (except in college basketball, but the first round of March Madness has so many games going on that it doesn’t really count) — they switched over an entire region to the other game. Here I was, sitting in the Bay Area about to switch off the Pens game when NBC decided that us west coasters would rather watch a white-knuckle game with playoff implications between two teams that hated each other.

Well, their strategy worked because the Isles/Rangers matchup was a hell of a game. Today, Paul Kukla posted that it got a 1.1 rating which was a small ratings bump over previous weeks. Whether or not this has anything to do with the switchover, I don’t know, but I think you can categorize the TV-watching hockey audience into three categories:

1) Local fans who want to see their team
2) Casual fans who want to see star players and “name” teams
3) Die-hards who want to watch a good game

The thing with this is that the NHL already has 1 and 3 but not enough of 2. Having Sidney Crosby play in NBC’s game of the week is a good idea except that no one wants to see him smack around a non-playoff team. It’s just no fun.

So what do you do? If you have a crappy game featuring your marquee player, do you stick with that? Or do you show the good game that actually means something even though it’s highly regionalized? It’s an interesting marketing conundrum, especially considering that the New York World Series a few years ago had awful TV ratings, as did the California World Series back in 2002.

Of course, the bottom line is that there is NO good formula for creating NHL TV ratings. The small bump in ratings could have more to do with the fact that 100,000 people left their TVs on when the phone rang. I’m sure John Shannon and his NHL Broadcasting Department are staring at a bunch of spreadsheets wondering what went right and what went wrong when it’s really all chaos theory.

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