SBD/October 1, 2013/NHL Season Preview

NHL Teams Say Realignment Eases Travel, Renews Rivalries, Could Boost TV Ratings

Wild ratings on FS North last season saw an 96% increase
The NHL this season is debuting a more geographically balanced format that saw the Red Wings and Blue Jackets move to the Eastern Conference, while the Jets moved to the Western Conference. Additionally, the league reduced the number of divisions from six to four and created the Metropolitan Division (THE DAILY). In St. Paul, Chad Graff reported the Wild will benefit from their new division and schedule "on three main fronts -- earlier games, easier travel, and renewed geographic rivals." The team will "play more games in the Central time zone this season ... than in any other season in team history." Wild VP/Brand Marketing & Communications John Maher: "There aren't as many nights now that if you want to follow you'll have to stay up until midnight, 1a.m. for." Wild ratings on FS North last season were up 96%. This season, due to a "number of factors, including the earlier start times, FSN is cautiously optimistic the numbers will again increase." While FS North Senior VP & GM Mike Dimond said that he is "optimistic that the start times could help ratings, there are several other factors that determine a game's rating, including the day of the week a game takes place, interest in the team, the opponent and what else is on TV" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 9/28). Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said, “It’ll take us awhile to figure it all out, but it brings the NHL back to where we used to be in the 1980s when those division rivalries created a lot of animosity between teams. How it impacts every team is different because the schedule is completely imbalanced as well as how you make the playoffs, but for us, it’s unbelievable because of the travel." Wild Owner Craig Leipold: "Realignment was a no-brainer for us. It’s good for our players, good for our fans, good for our TV ratings and it’s good for our pocketbook because travel costs are less and our TV ratings always drop as we get into the 10:30, 11 p.m. time period" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 10/1).

SIMILAR SITUATION FOR BLUE JACKETS: The Blue Jackets this offseason have seen their overall ticket base -- including renewals and new sales -- up 21%, and while Exec VP/Business Operations Larry Hoepfner was slow to cite realignment as a contributing factor, he did acknowledge that fans now will have an opportunity to see teams more relevant to the Columbus region. “Fans are looking forward to some of the matchups with teams they grew up cheering for and have not been able to [see] as much of in the past,” Hoepfner said. “To have the Penguins come in here, to have the Rangers come in and to have the Flyers come in and the Maple Leafs come in, I think that’s exciting for them.” The NHL’s schedule this year will see every team play a home and away series, so even though the Blue Jackets have switched conferences, they will be able to maintain their long standing rivalries with Western clubs. Other benefits cited in the move to the East include shorter travel for players and coaches and earlier start times for away games, which will be a boost for both the Blue Jackets and their TV partner, FS Ohio. Hoepfner said, “Everyone on the Fox side and on the team side are expecting, given not just the teams that we’re going to be playing but also given the start times of those games that, along with the team’s play, we would expect a significant increase in ratings.” FS Ohio Senior VP & GM François McGillicuddy in an e-mail wrote realignment has made the Blue Jackets' schedule "more accommodating for viewers because there will be less late-night games." He noted games "out west to California and western Canada will be replaced by road trips here in the east.” With a projected increase in TV ratings and decreased travel costs, Hoepfner said “early indications” are the move to the Eastern Conference “is going to be positive" for the team's bottom line. He added, “For us, everybody wins. We enjoyed our time in the West and we respect everyone in the Western Conference but this works out better for our fans and our sponsors and our players” (Jillian Fay, Staff Writer).

PLAYERS MIXED ABOUT NEW DIVISIONS: In Pittsburgh, Shelly Anderson wrote despite realignment the NHL has, "in many instances, kept rivalries intact." Penguins RW Craig Adams said, "It's great for the fans to be able to see every team. What that's going to do with travel, we'll see. (The schedule makers) assured us they were going to try to be a little bit more conscious of the scheduling." Anderson noted speculation is that the NHL "might be leaving room for expansion by two teams, to 32, which could lead to an equal number of teams in each division and conference." Adams: "You would think so. I hope there's some sort of a plan. I don't think it's tenable in the long term as it is" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/30). Ducks C Ryan Getzlaf said of realignment, "I don't necessarily like it. I don't know if it's the right answer to the problem but it's right now." Oilers RW Jordan Eberle: "You're playing divisional teams and those games get a lot more intense. It's better for the fans, now they get to see all the players" (Bergen RECORD, 9/29).
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