NBC likes the NHL, it really does ...
One of the most popular sports in the world of sports media these days is knocking the National Hockey League’s television situation in the U.S.
Targets of ridicule include the fact that the league still can’t get a rights fee from network television, it’s still fighting with bowling in the ratings lists and it insists on selling its cable package to Versus, a network that’s so high up the dial it gives remotes nosebleeds.
Some of that ridicule was heightened this week when the league signed a new deal with NBC, once again without a rights fee. Compared with the billions and hundreds of millions commanded by the like of the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball the NHL isn’t even on the map south of the border.
It leaves the NHL in the same position as the likes of the Arena Football League, though at least the NHL didn’t take a year off. Oh, right, it did. But not this year.
Despite all this criticism, the fact is the NBC deal is a pretty good one for the league. It's not as if the NHL had any choice - no one else came calling - but NBC has done some good things for the league.
By playing the game by NBC’s rules, the league has seen its ratings increase. Regular-season ratings are still dismal, but the winter outdoor games and the Stanley Cup finals have scored impressive numbers. That should continue to grow as long as NBC continues to air a first-rate product.
Is it a great deal? Well, no, considering the NHL gets little money out of its profit-sharing arrangement. And NBC’s scheduling demands and insistence on putting hockey behind horse racing preview shows certainly don't do much for the league's image.
But things are looking up. It’s even possible – though not probable – that when the new deal expires in 2011, somebody like Fox or ABC might even be interested.
Okay, maybe that's a stretch. But if ratings for the NHL's big events continue to grow, there could be interest a little farther down the road.