The NHL is currently experiencing it's most exciting post season of recent, showcasing it's elite teams and players in highly contested match ups. Attendance is up. Profits are up. And all this in only the second year after returning from an embarrassing lockout that shut down the league for an entire season. So why, after Saturday's Eastern Conference Finals game was the NHL's face 14 different shades of purple? It's humbling US Nationwide television contract.
With the Senators leading the series 3-1 and the score deadlocked at 2 a piece, Buffalo and Ottawa were preparing for sudden death overtime. The Sabres knew keeping their season alive meant scoring next. A Senators goal would elevate the team to it's franchise first Stanley Cup Final appearance. And hockey fans tuning in across America were fumbling with their remotes in search of the Versus Network, after NBC announced they'd be dropping the coverage due to time constraints, and heading to the live pre-race coverage of the Preakness. An NHL overtime game trumped by the hour and a half long coverage of a 2 minute horse race.
Although the hockey viewing public may be up in arms over the snub, it's hard to blame NBC. Between the NHL and the Preakness, the latter wins by several lengths. NBC pays nothing for the NHL broadcast rights. Instead the league and network split the profit from advertising revenue. And since overtime periods do not have TV timeouts, extended hockey coverage does not mean increased profits. On the other hand, NBC pays for the rights to broadcast the Preakness. And as part of Thoroughbred Racings Triple Crown, it promises higher ratings and more advertising dollars.
While it's hard to hold the ordeal against the Network, it is at least guilty of poor scheduling. It was, after all, NBC, weary of conceding prime time slots, who pushed the NHL to schedule Saturday games for the afternoons.
The black eye is instead on the NHL, and is just a sign, even as individual team markets thrive, of the poor state of the US nationwide television appeal of the NHL since leaving ESPN. Which is why, as the providence of Ontario celebrated the Daniel Alfredsson goal that sent the Senators to the Stanley Cup series, it was buried on Versus, deep in American cable packages. That is, for those that even had it.