The NHL and its corporate heads have not been known for their keen business sense as of late, and a recent blunder with the Stanley Cup Finals highlights this problem. With the league desperately trying to find a way to return to national prominence, a cast of young stars leading the way and a sensational two months of playoffs, the NHL allowed NBC to make a serious mistake with their scheduling for the Finals.
They allowed Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals to be held on back to back nights, so that NBC could have two weekend primetime games. This is absolutely inexcusable and could have had a big effect on the results of the games. Could you imagine the NFL having their playoff games, let alone the Super Bowl, held on short rest?
It’s not like the NHL is receiving a boatload of money from NBC that should make them so willing to succumb to their desires. No, the NHL has a deal with the network for no upfront right fees, signaling them out as the laughing stock of other professional sports organizations which are bringing in literally billions of dollars with upfront television contracts. The NHL only receives a split of the ad revenue from the games themselves. Additionally, the no rights fees agreement also led to the NHL being sent off to the Versus network as opposed to ESPN.
It’s also not like NBC is a powerhouse network that is in a great position to do whatever it pleases. The network has largely been struggling for ratings in comparison to the other main networks.
Here we are though, and the NHL and NBC have now announced a two year extension to their broadcast agreement under the same arrangement with no upfront fees. This is despite increasing ratings and recognizable stars Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby at least beginning to make a dent into the national scene.
Being on a network television station is crucial for the NHL in order to maintain its tenuous grip on American sports fans and to increase its dwindling fan base. However, having a contract with a company that forces back to back Stanley Cup Finals games, cuts away from playoff games for other coverage (a Preakness pre-show in 2008) and pays you no upfront money is insane.
Additionally, the regular season and the rest of the playoffs have an almost nonexistent presence on the network. The Winter Classic – a rare across the board success for the NHL – is a marketable and profitable event that should also be able to merit a better situation for the league.
The back to back Stanley Cup Finals games and the two year extension with NBC under the same terrible terms for the NHL are two more blunders to add to the growing list for the sports league.