The possibility of a second network night in the next Canadian TV broadcast contract due in 2014 might be the NHL's solution to extending its brand in Canada while keeping as many Canadian TV partners in the game. The idea emerged after a discussion this weekend at the NHL Draft in Pittsburgh with NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins.
Relaxing on a sofa beneath the stands of the Consol Center just prior to the start of Round One of the draft, Collins was asked what new possibilities exist for media initiatives. "I like the fact that Sunday Night Football has become the No. 1 show on television in the U.S.," Collins said. "Not just the No. 1 football program in America, but the No. 1 television program overall. That gives us lots of hope for our upcoming Canadian TV rights discussions."
Collins, a product of the NFL, didn't elaborate, but Hockey Night In Canada already owns Saturdays. But the thought naturally occurs, why not a second night in an age when sports remains TV's go-to property? The NHL grows ever more popular in Canada, experiencing saturation coverage on TSN and Sportsnet, with CBC and other networks not far behind in trying to exploit the stickiness of hockey as a Canadian broadcast property. Could the NHL emulate the NFL's push to expand its brand in football-crazy America?
Monday Night Football was the dominant football program (and overall program) for decades. When the NFL decided to create a special Sunday night platform for a national game, many scoffed. Monday's the night with the history, status and viewership. After seven or eight hours of football already on Sundays, who was going to stick around for more?
Apparently, everyone. NBC is now king of the networks on Sunday, no small thing in the era where networks are seeing their traditional advertiser-driven schedules abandoned for PVR, AppleTV and a host of new media alternatives. So could we see a second featured night of network hockey in Canada? If it means the NHL keeping Bell, Rogers and CBC all writing big cheques for its rights, look for the NHL to provide platforms to satisfy their needs.
Collins hit on a number of other TV subjects in an exclusive chat.
On the importance of the Los Angeles Kings making L.A. a hockey market: "We were in the market last year doing focus groups in major cities to understand how high is the bar for casual fans. In Los Angeles, no one could identify a Kings player. [Anze] Kopitar was maybe the one guy they were trying to mention. This was last summer. Game 6 of this year's final, they did a 25 share in L.A. It was really important. And once you come off a Stanley Cup run your ratings are better from then on." (Plus, former Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson says he watched the NHL, not NBA, playoffs this spring.)
On Canadian antipathy toward the final rounds with no Canadian teams: "It was a tough road for CBC, coming off the highest-rated final in decades with Boston/Vancouver (in 2011). That was as good as it gets. So nothing else could be as good as that."
On programming differences between Canada and the United States: "We had a lot of things to work out in terms of schedule, with games overlapping. In the U.S. that didn't seem a problem. They were looking at ratings cumulatively, like [NCAA basketball] March Madness. But in Canada, our broadcasters didn't want overlap. We learned a lot, and we'll spend time in the summer trying to figure it out."
On the positives from the 2012 playoffs: "The first two rounds were great quality, with great buzz . We had almost a New York City final with the Rangers and New Jersey in the Eastern final. We lost a little bit when the Devils won, because even though they have the championship legacy of Stanley Cups, they've still not got the tradition like the Rangers. By most measurements it was a pretty successful final, coming off the greatest rated final in a long time."
On the NHL awards, which (aside from Will Arnett's killer Brendan Shanahan impersonation) tanked again: "It's tough. Players like it. I'd love to figure it out, I'd love to have more fun, I'd love for the players to be more comfortable. I'd like to get more fans in. It is what it is. We'll keep working on it."
Finally, on Rangers coach John Tortorella's feelings about the HBO cameras invading his dressing room for the cable channel's 24/7 series. "The last filmed session, just before the team was going on ice, he turned to the HBO camera and said, 'I want to talk to you guys.' ... He went on to say how much he respected HBO, that they had respected him and his players, and he said he spoke on behalf of everyone. 'You guys have been welcomed into the hockey family, you have built the relationships. I just want to thank you. Now, after the game, don't let the door hit you in ass on the way out.'"