When the NFL kicked off their season on Thursday, September 10th, there was one game that night. The Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers faced the Tennessee Titans at home. That game was the only game on opening day. It was nationally televised and well advertised. They showed the ceremony with the fireworks and the Steelers started off their season with the NFL world watching them celebrate their championship a bit before the game started.
As the MLB kicked off their season on Sunday, April 5th, the only regular season game that day was played by the World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies as they faced the Atlanta Braves at home. This opening game of the season was also available for all baseball fans to enjoy as the Phillies celebrated their win with their fans one last time before starting the new season.
The NBA started off their season last year on October 28th with a double header on TNT starting with the NBA Championship Boston Celtics hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers. The second game of the double header featured the first regular season game for the number one draft pick in the 2007 NBA draft.
All of these leagues have a few things in common. The reigning champion of the league gets to start off the next season. The start of the season is a well advertised event with countdowns on public websites. The opening game and pre-game events are nationally televised in HD for anyone in the country to see without a special sports package. The national TV coverage of the games happens on a channel that everyone with cable gets (I realize that TNT is a cable channel) for free. They don’t need to purchase a sports package (as I do in order to get Versus) and the channels are all on DirecTV (which Versus is not as I write this – I’m still hoping they’ll work that out before I move, since I really want to change back to DirecTV when I’m able to get it). These games also all take place in the United States of America.
In contrast, the NHL starts their season with four games on opening day (Thursday, October 1st). Two of these games are nationally televised (including HD) on Versus – the Washington Capitals at Boston Bruins (7pm) and the San Jose Sharks at Colorado Avalanche (10pm). The other teams playing on opening day are The Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, and Calgary Flames. None of the teams playing on opening day were even in the Stanley Cup Finals last season. In fact, only three teams out of the eight playing on opening day made it out of the first round of the playoffs. They (the Capitals, Bruins, & Canucks) were all eliminated in the conference semifinals.
The Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins play their first game the second night of the hockey season. They play the 8th game of the season and will have all the fanfare of raising the Stanley Cup Championship banner with only local audiences (Pittsburgh & New York City) as well as those of us who have the NHL Network (a pay channel on my cable service). I am hoping the NHL Network shows the Pittsburgh feed of the game. Center Ice normally airs the home feed for home openers and I’m hoping the NHL Network will do the same. I’m also hoping that when entering the info someone just forgot to check the box to select that the show is in HD, since as of this morning the repeats on the NHL HD Network are going to be in HD, but the live feed will not. I think it’s horrible that the first game of the reigning champs isn’t nationally televised on a channel that’s easily accessible to all sports fans. Those wanting to see the raising of the banner living in New York will most likely have to settle for YouTube replays or watching it on the Penguins’ website, since the NHL Network feed will be blacked out in NYC due to the MSG telecast. I’m sure the Rangers will do the same thing the Ducks did when they played in the Penguins’ first home game a few years ago and cut out anything fans of the Penguins would want to see of the opening of the season and local fans will not get a choice.
The NHL messes up a lot of their marketing (or lack of marketing, as it were). Their not acknowledging the reigning Stanley Cup Champion is just one of many errors. The NHL continually tries to compete with the NBA (which will always be more popular in most parts of the US). This competition makes it difficult for some people (especially those in southern California and other areas where local basketball teams were doing well) to find a bar that will show the games if they’d like to go out with friends to enjoy them (or, as in the case of my one friend, didn’t have cable and needed to find someone willing to show hockey that had Versus – at least Versus and DirecTV didn’t have their battle until the playoffs ended). If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that Bettman was brought in to lower the NHL’s ratings and prove that it should eliminate some teams. A lot of the choices he’s made seem more like the choices networks make when they want to kill a show’s ratings. I could talk about different errors in judgment the NHL makes for ages like most hockey fans.
Southern California residents not attending the Ducks’ season opener (also their season opener), which is the same night as (and only a half hour apart from) the Kings’ season & home opener, will be disappointed if they’d like to watch it later. It’s one of the few games airing on KDOC instead of Fox Sports Prime Ticket or West, so it will only be aired in standard definition. I’ll be at the Kings game that night and was disappointed that the Ducks’ first game of the season will not be televised in HD. I think this is another bad marketing choice, though this one was probably made by FSN & KDOC, not the Ducks. I’m sure the Ducks would prefer all of their games to be aired in HD. Who wouldn’t? It makes fans happy and that’s the goal, isn’t it?
I know fans of all sports complain about choices those running the league make, but how is it possible that all the other major league team sports in the country have figured out that celebrating the reigning champion is a good idea and the NHL still hasn’t understood this simple fact? It doesn’t take a brilliant mind to figure out that having one (or two) game(s) to open the season and making a big deal out of the opening night with the current champ as well as nationally televising that game (and the game after it, if applicable) is a good marketing strategy. For all of Bettman’s talk about expanding interest in the NHL in the United States, he doesn’t seem to make choices supporting the concept.