Nobody won. Really, nobody. The fans lost because they were left hanging and lost a half-season including the Winter Classic at the Big House in Michigan. NBC Sports Network whose ratings fell into abyss with no NHL games from October through now has been “The Biggest Loser” through all this.
Regional sports networks across the country, dependent on NHL games for live programming, have been stuck trying to fill large holes with repeats of past sporting events or in some extreme cases, movies.
So now that the NHL is coming back as early as January 15 and no later than January 19, let’s go over the winners and losers from the NHL Lockout.
No one. Nobody won. Fans. Players. Owners. Sponsors. TV partners. The League. All lost.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: The NHL has lost 10% of the games in his disastrous tenure due to lockout. No league has lost more games due to labor disputes during the time he’s been in office. And the NHL is the lone league of the major four leagues to have canceled an entire season.
NBC Sports Network: It didn’t have live NHL games for four months and its ratings suffered. With Michelle Beadle’s new show premiering this month and a new NFL documentary about to begin, the network needs that consistent live programming to promote them. The NHL will help in that process.
Regional Sports Networks: Local rightsholders such as NESN, Sun Sports, Comcast SportsNet and Fox Sports Net all depend on the NHL for as many as 80 live games per season. Without live games, they had to scramble for other programming. NESN kept airing the Boston Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup run, but that only goes so far. The RSN’s are happy to see the NHL returning.
Sponsors: Based on the momentum the NHL had built over the last few years including a new long-term TV contract with NBC that began last season, sponsors had begun to drift to the league. As the lockout progressed, sponsors put pressure on the league to get back on the ice.
Local businesses and Employees:Restaurants, bars and shops that depend on hockey crowds for business at night lost four months to the lockout and that’s money that they’ll never get back. Buffalo, Nashville and other hockey-only markets are happy to see the NHL knowing that they’ll have 24-25 dates. But will the fans be back? And if you want to see how losing hockey can affect local businesses, here’s a flashback from WFSB’s Dennis House on how the Hartford Whalers’ departure affected Connecticut and one particular restaurant.
NHL Network: Bad job by the NHL Network for not even bringing back its studio shows to update fans on the lockout. As the news of the lockout was being settled, NHL Network remained in taped programming. They didn’t even simulcast TSN from Canada. Disservice to the fans. NFL Network and NBA TV both covered the ends of their lockouts in 2011, yet NHL Network can’t even provide lip service other than a crawl? C’mon, man! C’mon, NHL Network!
So where do we go from here? There are several things the NHL can do to get back in the fans’ good graces. One, make the Center Ice pay out-of-market package free for the entire season. Also, GameCenter which is the online version of Center Ice should be greatly discounted or made free for the season as well.
When the season opens, whether it’s on January 15 or January 19, NBC Sports Group should be given an opening night doubleheader which should include the banner raising ceremony for the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.
If the NHL opens on January 19 which falls on a Saturday, NBC should be given an afternoon doubleheader at noon and 3 p.m. ET while NBC Sports Network should be given games at night.
As far as the Canadian TV partners, expect CBC to given the Opening Night doubleheader no matter what day the NHL will open the season. TSN should get plenty of games for opening week as well.
And we’ll keep an eye on the ratings for any residual effects from the lockout. Both the NFL and NBA did not suffer any collateral damage from the lockout seeing record ratings. We’ll see if the NHL is warmly welcomed back or given the cold shoulder by fans.
To prepare you for the NHL, I’ll provide you this compilation of NESN’s Jack Edwards calling Boston Bruins action over the years.
And for Western New York, here’s the Best of Buffalo Sabres legendary voice Rick Jeanneret.
One more for good measure. TSN provides the Top Ten calls for legendary Pittsburgh Penguins voice Mike Lange. I wish we had “And you can scratch my back with a hacksaw!”
That is all.