Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Many default to ESPN, the current king of sports tv. The pros are obvious: sports audience, respectability by simply staying on the network. The cons are pretty obvious as well: low visibility, not-so-great promotional job in the past. The NHL on ESPN/ESPN2 felt like filler. Few commercials for games, and even fewer in primetime spots. Also, NHL 2night was cancelled after last season, not to be seen if there wasn’t a lockout.
Still, Mike Penner of the LA Times wrote For NHL, Best Move Might Be ESPN last week:
If it takes the advice of sports media analysts and experts, the league will go back to ESPN ASAP.
Most analysts are insisting that the league bite the bullet on money and simply go for exposure, and that ESPN is still the best option for exposure. If ratings are any indicator, I’d say the NHL might want to test the waters elsewhere.
When ESPN first announced they were not renewing their current contract with the NHL, many suggested the USA network, where the NHL used to broadcast games in the 80s. However, the channel has changed a good amount and probably isn’t the best fit for the NHL with it’s mixed demographic and golf/tennis/dog show coverage.
A week ago USA Today reported Spike TV was interested in broadcasting NHL games. There are some big pluses to making a deal with Spike. One is the demographic - easily the 18-34 male - something the NHL wants to target. Another is the fact that Spike is a young network, still forming original programming and giving itself an image, it would be very likely to promote hockey a ton, something the game needs. Is Spike stable enough to sign a deal with? From the LA Times article:
Spike has the type of demographic the NHL wants. “Spike’s demo is the 31-year-old male,” Pilson said. “But there’s a question as to whether Spike is going to continue its format.”
If Spike’s format is in question the NHL should be extremely weary about signing anything more than a one-year deal. But Spike does seem serious about sports. The Boston Globe reported Spike is interested in NASCAR back on July 1:
The Fox and NBC deals run out after next season. NASCAR has opted not to exercise its two-year option to extend the Fox half of the deal.
That opens the way for a profitable (for NASCAR) bidding war among ABC/ESPN, Fox, and NBC. Even Viacom (CBS) could get involved to boost its male-oriented Spike TV (the old Nashville Network) cable channel.
While NASCAR and NHL fans may not fit hand-in-hand it does show that the network is interested in major sports and looking to still cater to the same basic demographic.
Oh, and for the fight fans, I’ll make an assumption that you won’t have any Spike cameramen turning away from any scraps or having some guy in a van show you the bench while a brawl breaks out.
Other contenders right now seem to be Comcast and TNT. TNT is not specifically named in the MediaWeek article, just Turner, but TNT is most likely the station the NHL would wind up on. TNT currently has a deal with the NBA, and the NHL may not want to compete with scheduling on that station. TNT has done a good promotional job with the NBA during the years of the contract and it would be foolish to dismiss the network right away.
Comcast, which has regional sports channels along with the Outdoor Life Network, might be interested in running with a large NHL deal and starting it’s own national sports network. While some have tried and failed (Fox Sports, CNNSI), none had a national contract with a “major” sport to broadcast live. While the NHL’s popularity has suffered the past few years, it still brings much more respectability to the table for a new network. Also, MediaWeek notes that a new network could also rope in the NFL to a small deal:
While Comcast officials would not comment, it has been rumoured that Comcast is planning to do just that, starting a new network where it can also telecast Thursday/Saturday night NFL games if it can do a deal for that package.
A new network with NHL and NFL games could be the start of a real ESPN contender. (Sure, there’s a lot of programming to fill in, but I’m sure a few news broadcasts and a random poker show can help fill some late nights.) On a new sports network from Comcast, or even a network like Spike, there’s enough room in the schedule to make an NHL 2night-type show, another angle one of these networks might use to try and win the NHL contract besides cold, hard cash.
Back in April, when the NFL signed a deal with NBC I wrote about how it could be good for the NHL, simply from the few promos it can get during NFL games on the channel. If Comcast could grab the NHL and Thurs-Sat night NFL games, which would have to be played late in the football season (during hockey season) due to an antitrust law not to broadcast games against college football, the NHL can only do better. In-game promotions and possible late-night (west coast) games being aired after NFL games could prove to be very successful.
It may sound iffy, but NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has been hinting at possibly getting a deal done with a new network for quite some time. From February:
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Friday there remains disagreement on what the rights fee should be for ABC’s “Monday Night Football” and ESPN’s Sunday pro football packages, and held open the possibility the league could “do something that’s really bold and major and not just business as usual in terms of how we grow our television services.”
Tagliabue would not specify what the new “bold and major” initiative might entail at his annual state of the NFL news conference but did say, “we are giving very serious consideration to being part of the launch of another major sports network on cable and satellite television. That’s a complicated thing, but we’re looking at that very seriously. That’s a strategic thing, which anticipates the future of television technology and the future interests of where people are going to be in terms of digital television technology.”
At the time it was thought a new network could be from Fox, but Comcast could do just fine, especially if they already have a deal in place with another league; and while the other NFL TV deals have been ironed out, the league is also working on something to secure it’s spot as the most popular sport in the US. If the NHL needs to ride it’s coattails for a bit to climb back up the ladder, so be it.
In the end the NHL should be very happy it has some real options. When the lockout started there was a “never to be seen again” feel in the US. To bring the questions of “if” or “when” to “where” is a big step for the recovering league.
Monday, July 18, 2005
ESPN currently has a SportsNation poll asking people to rank leagues (not just sports). There are 16 from Auto Racing to Softball.
After submitting your answers you see the real-time results. There are no raw numbers, no percentages - just the results. The NHL currently sits at number three behind the NFL and MLB (college football and the NBA round out the top 5).
I’m not quite sure how long the poll has been up, or all the locations on espn.com that it has/has been linked from (which can obviously affect the results).
Either way, it seems there are a good amount of fans who are looking forward to the return of the NHL - perhaps more than some think.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Obviously, due to the announcement that the NHL lockout will be ending, there are many, many news reports regarding the settlement, local teams and team/player/fan reactions. The Newslinks area is quite active and I just thought I’d give an extra pointer to it today.
Sunday, April 24, 2005
Many media outlets picked up on the Bobby Orr piece written for the Eagle-Tribune, but I haven’t really seen anyone link directly to it. So here it is.
Orr writes what most logical people are thinking, to sum it up: you’ve wasted a year, so get it done or go away and let someone else get it done.
The Hall-of-Famer is now an NHL agent and obviously wouldn’t mind the two sides coming together and getting a deal done for his business purposes, but it’s always been quite clear Orr loves the game of hockey and the lockout is beginning to test his patience not just as a businessman, but as a fan too.
Monday, April 18, 2005
NBC, which has been without NFL football for six years, has made a deal for Sunday night NFL games, which were being broadcast on ESPN.
This past year NBC has broadcast none of the four major team sports. The NHL signed a deal with NBC after the 2003-04 season, but the deal hasn’t even started yet due to the lockout. Part of the NHL-NBC agreement is game promotion to NBC’s large 18-35 male audience, a key demographic. NBC picking up NFL games couldn’t come at a better time for the hockey league, assuming there will be actual NHL games by 2006, which is when the NFL-NBC deal starts. Promos placed during NFL games should attract exactly the audience the NHL is looking for. None of the NHL games on NBC are scheduled be broadcast during the NFL season, but a few quick promos continuously run throughout the season certainly couldn’t hurt. I’ve always said the NHL should buy a Super Bowl commercial, but some NFL regular season game exposure isn’t a bad thing either. Games will be played at that time, just not on NBC.
Reason #1,224,202 why the NHL can’t have the same sort of economic system as the NFL: NBC and the NHL have a revenue share deal (after the network makes a profit, which isn’t being counted on), while NBC just paid $600 million US for six years of Sunday night games.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
ESPN.com has a poll on the front page of their site that asks: Which sporting event would you most like to attend?
Game 7 of NBA Finals
Game 7 of World Series
NCAA basketball title game
You notice the absence of the Stanley Cup Finals as a choice.
It’s not too big a slam against hockey, with no NHL this season, even the fans the NHL has are bitter right now, and it’d most likely come in dead last. The Super Bowl is easily leading the way right now with 43.6% of respondants choosing the big NFL game to attend above all others. The World Series has a cushy second place spot at 27.1% and the NCAA final game is in third with 15%. I have little doubt if this poll was conducted in August, and not the same day as the NCAA final game, fewer would have chosen tonight’s game.
Sunday, March 27, 2005
Jes G?lbez reported the Euro leagues were getting violent compared to the games played in the regular season on Tuesday. Two days later he commented on IIHF president René Fasel going off about it. Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer brings up the situation again.
Jes sums up my own opinion well in two statements:
I take this statement [from René Fasel] to be a jab at the large amount of North American players taking up spots on European rosters these days… Methinks Rene should also cool down just a little.
Seriously. This is European hockey, stick-swinging incidents are nothing new, and as Tim Panaccio of the Inquirer points out there’s an ironic twist here: there’s a decline in fights during NHL playoff hockey, not an increase like these European leagues are seeing.
D-Ryazantsev, Karpovsky, Rakhunek, Murphy, Zhukov, Vasiliev, Krasotkin
F-Mikhnov, But, Nepryaev, Shafigulin, Schastlivy, Tkachenko, Shvidky, Korolev, Galimov, Vlasenkov, Yashin, Antropov, Kryukov
D-Gusev, Nikitin N., Koltsov, Guskov, Panov, Nikitin I., Bondarev, Tverdovsky
F-Zatonsky, Perezhogin, Kuriyanov, Popov, Bednar, Khatsey, Prokopiev, Subbotin, Nazarov, Jagr, Kalyuzhny
Probably not the names you were expecting to see.
Some more Russian hockey coverage over here in NA:
Bladed messenger - from the Toronto Star
Between August and December of 2004, Dave Bidini travelled (sic) with a film crew 4,000 kilometres, West to East, across Russia looking for the story of hockey. The results of his trip are The Hockey Nomad Goes to Russia, airing Monday at 9 p.m. on CBC, and the following piece, which relates some of the highlights.
Missing home in the homeland - From the St. Petersburg Times about Nikolai Khabibulin’s return to Russia.
Rough translation - From the St. Petersburg Times
Tampa Bay Lightning star Vinny Lecavalier returns home this week after four months of playing hockey in Russia, exiled because of the NHL lockout. This month, Times staff writer Tom Jones and photographer Dirk Shadd traveled 26 hours over three days to Kazan, 412 miles east/southeast of Moscow, to chronicle what Lecavalier described as the experience of a lifetime.
Sunday, March 06, 2005
Many people pre-order NHL Center Ice, the season subscription package available on digital cable and satellite tv that allows you to watch almost every game.
Many of those same people haven’t seen a dime back yet from their tv providers. Phil Mushnick of the NY Post makes note of that while taking a swipe at FCC Chairman Michael Powell:
That brings us to FCC chairman Michael Powell, who this month leaves office. He said his last official act will be to insist cable companies refund the tens of millions of dollars in subscriber fees they have pocketed for the cancelled NHL season.
“The cost of NHL rights and telecasts are factored into cable bills and then marked up,” Powell said. “To not refund or credit that money constitutes stealing on a massive, national scale.”
Of course, he neither insisted upon nor said any such thing. Powell, during his four-year tenure, never made a peep as cable-rate increases remained frequent and regularly surpassed inflation/cost-of-living rates.
Last year I learned my lesson about pre-ordering Center Ice - I took advantage of a deal from Time Warner, and then they charged me again for the package in the fall after they had to work on my cable line and reset my service. No more pre-ordering for me.
I hope those of you who have pre-ordered get your money back.
I’ve said it before, but if the NHL wants to reach out to fans next season they’ll make Center Ice dirt cheap and do whatever they can to get their NHL channel included into sports packages for no extra cost.
Friday, March 04, 2005
The NY Times is carrying a piece from Richard Sandomir about NBC Sports, and how they’ve dropped all major sports from the station (NFL, NBA, MLB) in favor of other sports, usually “smaller” stuff, like the NLL All-Star game that was broadcast last weekend. NBC execs said they simply don’t want to lose money on the big sports. Many of the big sport contracts have networks paying much more than they bring in, although some networks insist that carrying the big sports establishes them as a network and helps other shows on the network do better through targeted promos.
One interesting hockey-related item is this tidbit about the NHL’s contract with NBC:
Had the league not canceled its season after a lengthy lockout of its players, NBC would have taken enough advertising revenue off the top of their joint pot to pay its costs, after which sharing would have begun. With no N.H.L. season, Year 1 of the NBC deal rolled over into next season - if there is one.
So, unlike NHL player contracts, the NHL did not lose a year on it’s television contract. It’s not surprising as I’m sure the possible lockout was talked about during negotiations with NBC, and planned for.
The NHL has a two-year agreement with NBC, with an NBC option for an addition two years.