When the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, it marked a major milestone in the history of the NHL on television. That was the last broadcast of hockey for NBC and its partner networks. Next year, the pucks will be dropped on Turner and ESPN.
The league was very different in 2005 when it moved to NBC. ESPN had let it go and the 2004-2005 season was canceled due to a labor dispute. Rather than a traditional media deal, the NHL’s agreement with NBC gave the sport a share of the revenue from each game’s advertising sales, rather than the usual lump sum paid upfront for game rights. That was not the trend in sports media at the time, and originally, people thought it would be bad for the NHL.
“It was a terrific partnership, NBC and NBC Sports and Comcast, which owns it all as well,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told me in an exclusive interview on my Sports with Friends podcast. “Great people. We were honored to be with them for more than a decade and a half.”
In an obvious move, NBC hired Mike “Doc” Emrick to be the lead announcer and for 15 of those years, he brought class, dignity, drama, and brevity to the game broadcasts. While this column usually stays away from critiquing broadcasters, Doc Emrick is in a class reserved for very few.
Both Turner and ESPN offer a higher profile going forward. The sport has grown as a brand. Despite low linear national ratings, the NHL.TV package and out-of-market exposure on ESPN+ in recent years have been a positive.
Still, NBC helped developed the Winter Classic and the Outdoor Series. That’s something that was never heard of before, and a big jump from traditional thinking. It’s that kind of forward-thinking that solidified this growth.
They also used new technology to have a broadcaster embedded between the benches during game broadcasts, something that hockey had never done before.
Before NBC, the stories around hockey were that so much of the United States wasn’t interested. Once the league returned from its canceled season, a distinct change in marketing coincided with the then-new network.
Instead of worrying about whether Biloxi, Mississippi, or Tuscaloosa, Alabama would hold their own as hockey markets, the NHL steered its focus to the people who already had a history with the sport. The P1s needed attention.
The NHL started to reinforce its emphasis on the markets that already loved them. Make sure the people in Philadelphia love the Flyers. Ensure that Detroit loves the Red Wings. That, combined with the outdoor games changed the tides in the NHL’s popularity.
The NBC years also saw the end of the two-line pass, opening up offensive stars like Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.
Ties in hockey also went by the wayside. Instead of ending in a tie, the game went to a shootout following overtime. While there has been much debate on whether the shootout is really great or not, the fact is the league was evolving.
The advent of NBC Sports Network enhanced coverage. Originally the Outdoor Life Network, the channel became Versus. Then, the NBC Sports Network took form in 2011 and the new brand gave the NHL coverage an even greater spotlight.
(Full disclosure: I worked for the NBC Sports Network during its initial re-branding.)
10 years after launch, the NBC Sports Network is planning to close its doors. They announced that earlier this year, leading to speculation that NBC didn’t want to continue their relationship with the NHL.
Bettman did not say that specifically but did offer this comment on the decision not to extend at NBC.
“For reasons which we don’t have to get into, we each had reasons to make the decisions that were made,” Bettman said. “We move on to new relationships grateful for the opportunity and the time we had together.”
To consider where the league was when NBC got involved to where it is now is astounding. The focus of the summer will be on the new networks, the new streaming services, a new team in Seattle, and a new era for the NHL.
NBC was a great partner, and the league and its fans are better for it.
Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC
“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”
NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade. A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well. However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).
NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season. NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.
NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.
Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.
Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.
If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.
“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”
Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.
Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm.
“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”
While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.
Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock.
Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week.
My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic. When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV. Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams. After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England. They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.
I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.
I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters.
By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.
Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.
This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.
Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.” NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.
Media Noise – Episode 45
Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.
6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio
“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”
For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.
Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?
Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?
Well, let’s go Digging for Gold.
The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.
Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.
If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way? I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:
- Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
- Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
- Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
- Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
- FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $
- Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months
The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details.