NBC Sports Net Hopes To Lure NHL Fans Back With Wednesday Night Rivalry Games
NBC Sports Group knows viewers may be slow to embrace the return of the NHL when coverage begins Saturday on NBC with Blackhawks-Kings and Penguins-Flyers, but NBC Sports Exec Producer Sam Flood on a conference call yesterday said execs are "cautiously optimistic they’ll come back." Flood: "The hockey fan is a passionate group. … As we learned the last time there was a lockout, the fans eventually came back and the numbers grew and the game of hockey grew. But it’s not instantaneous." The hardcore fans, however, are not the main concern for NBC. The net needs to focus on winning back the casual viewers who last year got caught up in the excitement and drama of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Flood said, "I think that can happen. Is it going to happen right away? I don’t know." One way NBC hopes to entice fans back to its networks is with the introduction of the Wednesday night rivalry game on NBC Sports Network, which will kick off with Bruins-Rangers on Jan. 23. Flood said, "Hatred is a big part of hockey. Teams have a tendency to hate each other and that hatred creates some pretty dramatic and fun hockey to watch. That will be promoted. Hate sells."
MUM'S THE WORD: The NBC broadcast teams will not talk about the four-month-long lockout itself, but instead will focus on how the work stoppage has impacted the game on the ice. For example, announcers will address what advantage locked-out NHLers who played in Europe have over those who did not. Flood: "What happened in terms of the business side of the lockout is not relevant, once the games are being played, to this audience." But he added, "The lockout’s impact on the on-ice product is critical and we have to explain it.”