I would like to give a giant stick tap to NBC Sports and their coverage of the National Hockey League. Ever since NBC acquired the Versus Network they have stepped up their game when it comes to covering the NHL. They are doing a much better job than ABC/ESPN ever did. I won’t even mention the glowing laser puck from Fox’s coverage back in the 90′s. I was very happy when NBC signed a 10 year deal for the broadcasting rights of the NHL. Besides Sunday Night Football the NHL is NBC’s centerpiece. I was worried that ESPN would try and bring the NHL back to its network, which would have been a disaster. ESPN broadcasts the NBA, the NFL, MLB and college basketball all during the NHL season. Hockey would have been 5th fiddle on ESPN and would not have gotten the attention it deserves.
NBC outdid itself with its coverage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by broadcasting every single playoff game live this season. This was a huge undertaking but it has paid off big time. According to the NHL media department over 70 million fans in North America have turned into the first three rounds of the playoffs this year. In the United States alone, 47 million viewers have tuned in to watch the greatest event in sports, the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Viewership is 22% from last year in the US. The national broadcasts have had their biggest numbers since 1997 and the cable numbers haven’t been this big since 2002. All of this can be contributed to NBC broadcasting every game and presenting it with knowledgeable commentators in the booth and in the studio.
So what does this all mean? It means the NHL is starting to regain its health that is still damaged from the lockout that cost us the 2004-2005 season. Attendance is up across the league and more people are watching the product than they have in a long time. This puts even more pressure on both sides, the owners and players, to not screw up the new CBA this summer. The game we all love is starting to reach new heights and any kind of work stoppage will ruin all of this in a blink of an eye. So I beg of Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr, please don’t screw this up!