New NHL TV Deal Means Less Local Broadcasts

Versus and NBC and NHL logos together
Logos courtesy of Versus

I’m OK with the NHL going with NBC/Versus for the next 10 years.

Versus telecasts are still very much a crap shoot, but on the whole, they’ve gotten much, much more watchable. And even though NBC seems to love having 12 analysts covering a game, the productions are fine.

But I do have some concerns about the deal.

Like how Versus and/or NBC are going to take more games exclusively, meaning they won’t be broadcast by local stations with local announcers.

Hockey isn’t like football, where fans are used to different announcers every week and where the announcers have an entire week to get to intimately know a team. When Versus/NBC drops in announcers, no matter how good they are, they simply can’t know as much as the local team does. And that makes for a diminished broadcast. The national audience might not notice, but the local one certainly does.

The local television connection is an important concept that shouldn’t be minimized. Most of us spend a few days a week with our local announcing team. Losing games to the Versus/NBC mothership isn’t fan friendly. I understand why Versus/NBC wants the games exclusively, but I don’t understand why the NHL would just kind of forget about its core fans — the people who watch and enjoy quite a few local games a week.

I’m also concerned about the Phoenix implications for the deal. David Shoalts has a very interesting piece suggesting the NHL wants to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix because the television market is important to NBC/Versus.

Obviously, if the funding issues aren’t resolved, there’s no way for the Coyotes to stay, but it seems unhealthy for the league to try and force a team to remain in a market where it’s failing, simply because a network wants the TV market. It’s like pouring money into a store that’s losing money because the store is in a good location.

And I’m not even sure how keeping the Coyotes in Phoenix will translate into viewers. The team’s local viewership is down almost 20%. I would think you could pick up 9,000 households in just about any Canadian city.

Despite those concerns, NBC seems very interested in growing the NHL brand. My hope is that they’ll spotlight the game and not resort to gimmicks to bring in eyeballs, but not necessarily develop fans. I’m OK with Guy Boucher going on Celebrity Apprentice or Matt Cooke doing a guest spot on The Event, but I don’t want to see a weekly outdoor NHL game.

NBC didn’t actually pay the NHL anything on its previous deal. Instead the NHL and NBC shared ad revenue (with Versus paying for its own deal).

Now that NBC sees the value of the NHL property, I hope they treat it right. But more than that, I hope NBC/Versus treats the fans right, also.

Speaking of Versus, they sent me a link to a contest where first prize is two tickets to a Stanley Cup final game, plus airfare, ground transportation, accommodations, and a $250 gift card. It’s a pretty cool prize.