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Hockey Forrest 05/06/2009

Posted by sportretort in nhl, Sports, Uncategorized.
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It is the age old question.  If a tree falls in the forrest with no one around to hear, does it make a noise?  That is the question currently facing the NHL.  In round two of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the league has it’s best individual match up, as well as a series that includes the last two Cup champions. 

Hockey considers itself the forth major sport in the US.  But with the majority of  TV coverage limited mainly to

Super stars Crosby and Ovechkin face each other in round two

Super stars Crosby and Ovechkin face each other in round two

 regional networks, is that a fair assessment?  Broadcast coverage of the NHL is limited at best during the first two rounds of the playoffs.  NBC covers two games a week, one each on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  It will pick up coverage during the Cup final series.  The only other network coverage is on the Versus network (channel 603 on DirecTV), which carries games in all time slots played.  There is hope, however for the league.  Amid concerns that the current economic downturn would mean that playoff games would be contested in half empty venues, fully 40 of the 44 first round games were played to sellouts.  In addition, Versus reported a 22% increase in US viewership this year compared to last.  The April 19 game between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on NBC was the most watched opening round broadcast TV game since 2001, according to the NHL.  While the numbers are small compared to NFL and MLB playoff numbers, the increase is encouraging.

Now we come to the round two showcases.  Washington – Pittsburgh features the two biggest young stars in the game today.  The Capitals Alex Ovechkin and Penguins Sidney Crosby match up is akin to a Kobe – James match up in the

Red Wings-Ducks will feature hard hitting action

Red Wings-Ducks will feature hard hitting action

NBA or a Manning – Brady NFL dual. With the added dimension that these two do not like each other.   And in the first two games of the series, these two mega-stars have not disappointed.  Game one, a 3-2 Washington win features a goal by each player.  Alex the Great lead his team to a 2-0 series lead with a hat trick in game two.  Not to be outdone, Sid the kid answered with 3 goals of his own in the 4-3 loss.  The series now switches to Pittsburgh for games 3 and 4.  Viewership should be up for this series.  In what may be the most exciting team match up in round 2, the 2007  Cup champion Anaheim Ducks are contesting the defending Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.  This series features hard hitting, fast skating and an energy level that creates excitement all game long.  After a Detroit 3-2 victory in game one which featured the game winning goal in the last 50 seconds of regulation, game two went to the Ducks 4-3 in triple overtime, sending this series to Anaheim tied at one game each.  Game 3 went to the Ducks 2-1, but an apparent game tying goal by Detroit with one minute left was disallowed when it was ruled that a referee’s whistle had stopped play before the goal.  Hockey fans will not want to miss a second of this match up.  In addition to these two series, the big market Chicago Blackhawks have moved past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1996.  These three series should help viewership  continue to increase in round two.

This increase of viewership has to continue.  Hockey needs to drive the type of numbers that will make it attractive to more main stream TV outlets.  A better broadcast agreement would help, but at the very least a cable/satellite agreement that will allow for exposure into more homes is needed.  The NBA has agreements with TNT and ESPN, for example, which allows for potentially larger exposure.  Something akin to this, and the money such agreements would bring to the league is what is needed for the NHL to be considered one of the big boys in US sports.