SBD/January 6, 2011/Media

Success Of NHL "24/7" Encourages HBO To Target Other Leagues

HBO could target other leagues, sports following success of NHL "24/7"

The success of HBO's "24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic" has encouraged the network to "broaden its programming with other leagues in the heat of their regular seasons," according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg: "This might have been a game-changer and proven that we should pursue other leagues and other sports. We've talked to other leagues over the last couple of years. But now there's much more awareness of this kind of programming." The NHL, Penguins and Capitals "provided broad access to HBO." NHL COO John Collins: "We didn't put any parameters on them, and they took it to a level that I don't think anybody could have hoped for." Through the first three episodes, viewership of the series was "just below HBO's average of about three million for all showings of its boxing '24/7' shows." The first episode, the "only one that HBO has full numbers on," drew 2.8 million total viewers in a week, including 555,000 for the Dec. 15 premiere and the first repeat. The second episode "had the same number and the third fell to 549,000." Sandomir writes the series has been "funny, foul, revealing, ribald, bloody and gritty," and the "template would be the same if other sports followed the NHL's example: an all-access look at a short part of the season that leads to a climax." Greenburg: "You have to do high-profile events that hit the mark." Sandomir notes "one such event could be golf's Ryder Cup, which would move HBO into a new sport." An NBA spokesperson said that the league "had turned down several requests for teams to be in" a similar series, but an MLB spokesperson said that the league "would be interested in exploring opportunities" with HBO (N.Y. TIMES, 1/6).

FOND FAREWELL: HBO aired the final episode of the "24/7" series last night, and in N.Y., Jeff Klein wrote under the header, "A Bittersweet Farewell." The series is a "superb, engrossing documentary." Penguins coach Dan Bylsma's "halting description of his feelings at seeing the bittersweet end of the month-long '24/7' experience was hard to forget." Bylsma said of the HBO crew, "I feel a little let down seeing these guys go." Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau Monday said, "They were understanding that they are in every nook and cranny and bugging us when we didn't want to get bugged. But they were so professional about it and so polite that it made you want them to have all access" (NYTIMES.com, 1/5). In DC, Dan Steinberg writes, "Parts of the ending of HBO's incredible Caps-Penguins 24/7 series were a bit overwrought for me. Especially the whole 'hockey won't hold still for a portrait' bit." But Steinberg added, "The voice over during the final scene ... went on to say that hockey conveys 'a passion invulnerable to cynicism,' and I can't really argue with that. That, in fact, is what makes the HBO stuff so great -- it's all-access, and it's comfortable, and it's honest, and so it's not phony" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 1/6). In Pittsburgh, Maria Sciullo noted Post-Gazette readers "responded through e-mail and social media to say overwhelmingly, they don't want it to end." Readers said that they "enjoyed ... family moments, including holiday dinners and a scene where Pens coach Dan Bylsma is cooking dinner with his family." Sciullo: "Language aside, many readers said they enjoyed watching the series with their families" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 1/5).

Boudreau became one of the show's breakout stars due to his colorful language 
PAY IT FORWARD: SI's Michael Farber writes, "Maybe the NHL will be able to leverage Winter Classic TV ratings into a rights-fee television deal with a major U.S. network." But the "greater long-term benefit to the league might have been provided" by HBO. The network "seemed to do the impossible: For an hour a week over four weeks HBO made people care about hockey." While the series "reacquainted sports fans" with Penguins C Sidney Crosby and Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin, HBO also "stood for Hear Boudreau Orate." From the moment Boudreau "carpet bombed his team with 17 obscenities in a minutelong, between-periods rant in the first episode last month, he became the fulcrum of the series" (SI, 1/10 issue). Boudreau: "I was so upset at myself because when you start doing it, you don't realize how much you use that word. ... The last two weeks when they've been in the dressing room I've been so cognizant of trying to be calm and not use that word" ("NHL Live," NHL Network, 1/3).

PENS VS. CAPS, THE LOST FOOTAGE: Greenberg noted there is a "ton of footage on the floor" that was not used during the show, and if "there's a huge demand for a DVD of the series, we would have to oblige." He said, "I don't know how much of it we could scrape up and put together. I don't know how much of that will ever be seen. The NHL has all of this game footage at their disposal in the future. We retain the rights for a year. ... I hope we could put that together." Greenburg added, "Having seen all the cuts and putting it together this week, I've never seen hockey covered like this and it makes me real proud that ... this HBO Sports team could put this together" ("Washington Post Live," Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, 1/5).

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NHL, Hockey, HBO

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