Looking at More US TV Options for the NHL

When discussing Hockey’s Place on American Television, I failed to mention another idea brought up by USA Today’s Michael Hiestand - the NHL on HBO.

As the NHL seems ready to play games again, it has no national U.S. cable TV deal. An idea: Put games, with players and coaches miked live, on ad-free HBO, where anything goes with on-air expletives.

“That’s intriguing,” HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg says. “The only issues would be how much (money) they’d want and the games’ significance. I’m not sure regular-season games would have the heat we’d need. But if they gave us an open book, we’d fill the pages.”

It was mentioned in the St Pete Times today, and Sports Central’s Greg Wyshynski didn’t glance over it at all, breaking down some pros and cons of putting certain games on HBO.

The idea of putting a few games on pay cable may seem crazy to some, but it isn’t pay-per-view (like some games up in Canada) and a channel like HBO has many, many subscribers (there’s a reason so many people are able to talk about the Sopranos, they’re not guessing who was whacked the night before).  If hockey wants to do anything edgy, they have an outlet and if only a few late season games are put on the network it could be done very well with length time to prepare.  Lockerroom cams can be shown live, as there’s no reason for censoring and, of course, everything could be in HDTV.  It could even give the NHL a bit of a premium feel to it.  After all, games will still be on NBC and some other national network - there’s no reason not to experiment with a pay cable channel like HBO.

Chris Baginski
left a good comment on my previous post about the US national TV situation.

- More games are needed on NBC, which broadcasts in HD.

- The NHL should definitely not go with Comcast, and most likely not with ESPN either.

- The NHL should go with either Spike TV, TBS or USA. The best thing to do would be to get a revenue sharing contract with two of them, getting games on two networks on two nights as well as more revenue and exposure. Though hopefully they’d show games on more than one night a week for each network.

I’m in complete agreement about NBC - the NHL should do whatever they can to get more games on the network, even if it means footing the bill for the extras.  As I wrote previously, exposure is more important than anything else right now.

I can’t say I’m as down on Comcast - possibly because the rumors aren’t that Comcast would only put games on OLN, but also the E! network (which has a greater reach) while it gets its ESPN-rival network ready.  Is it the channel you’d want to be on?  Not really, but if the NHL has a chance to be part of a real sports channel it might be worth the risk.  HD also comes into play here - Spike and the other networks don’t have HD broadcasts available widely right now - it’s an assumption, but I’d think any new sports network would immediately push HD right away.

One scenario too many are overlooking is a contract with multiple partners.  Why not get a few games on USA, and some on Spike?  See who promotes the game better and brings in better ratings and go with them in the future.  The NBA has a contract with TNT and ESPN - NASCAR has a split-season contract with Fox and NBC (although NASCAR has currently chosen not to renew the deal with Fox, it is assumed NBC won’t pick up the other half, another network will still share the circuit).

There’s no reason the NHL can’t try and up the number of games on NBC, give a serious call to HBO and still sign more than one national cable company to broadcast games.  It gives the NHL the potential to reach a wide demographic of fans, get feedback from fans about what type of broadcasts they like best, and also gives them multiple income streams (so it’s easier to possibly switch up or drop a network later on).  Sure, hard core fans might have to reach for the TV Guide a bit more to see what game is being televised where, but they’ll do it (and NHL.com posts a complete schedule with TV listings anyway).

The NHL should also play hands-off with these networks (at least at first) to let them be as creative as possible.  Let ideas succeed and fail with the broadcast and not in a conference room.  Each network would probably wind up using the best ideas from the other ones and you’d be left with some great productions within a year or two.

As they keep saying, game on.

Posted by David M Singer on Jul 25, 2005 at 07:01 PM


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