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.
Tags: Braves, Cavaliers, Celtics, Center Ice, Ducks, FSN, Gary Bettman, HD, Hockey, Kings, marketing, MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, NHL Network, Penguins, Phillies, Rangers, Stanley Cup, Stanley Cup Finals, Steelers, Titans, TNT, Versus, YouTube
What a game. I don’t know about all Penguins fans, but this Penguins fan has a sore neck. It’s amazing how stressful just watching a game 7 in the Stanley Cup Finals can be… When watching the horrible game 5 at Diesel on the south side in Pittsburgh, Bryan Trottier mentioned that he was just watching this year as a fan and that it was very stressful to be a fan watching your team in the Finals. Hearing that from a guy who won the Cup six times (4 with the Islanders, 2 with the Penguins) as a player and once as an assistant coach (with the Avalanche) was pretty surprising.
In Pittsburgh, it would have been simple to pick a bar for watching game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and you probably couldn’t have made a bad choice. Every bar was surely filled with fans wanting the Penguins would win and the fact that the NBA wasn’t playing tonight didn’t matter as much to Penguins fans in Pittsburgh as it did to hockey fans in southern California. Here, most people care more about the Lakers than they do two out of town teams in the NHL Finals. Heck, even if the Ducks or Kings were in the Finals, I’d bet a lot of money that more people would care about the Lakers being in the Finals.
I went to my favorite local sports bar (The Corner Office) with a friend figuring there were bound to be other hockey fans there watching the game and I was right. I left work a half hour early and we just barely got there in time to get one of my 5 favorite booths in front of the big screens. There was another fan in a Penguins jersey (also Mario Lemieux), a fan in a Red Wings jersey, one in a Red Wings t-shirt, etc. More people in the bar seemed to want the Penguins to win, but there were fans on both sides. The Corner Office even put the sound on for the game, which I didn’t expect. Could we hear it most of the time? Not really, but the bar tried and I think that was really nice of them.
Game 7s don’t happen every year in the Finals, but they are a lot of fun when they do. The Penguins/Red Wings series was an exciting one, in spite of the blow-out in game 5 (where the Red Wings won 5-0). The 7th game lived up to my expectations. The game wasn’t over until the buzzer sounded. It was exciting and Penguins fans everywhere went crazy. I’m sure many of them worried when Sidney Crosby went down, but Max Talbot was amazing and gets the Stanley Cup winning goal, which he definitely deserved. Marc-Andre Fleury made some amazing saves, including one highlight reel save that will even show up on ESPN over and over, I’m sure. Dan Bylsma came a long way in a short period of time. From assistant AHL coach to Stanley Cup Champion head NHL coach. It must seem like a bit of a blur for him, but he’s done an amazing job and deserves a lot of credit for the turnaround the Penguins made this season.
Sidney Crosby may not have played much in game 7 (he didn’t even get to 10 minutes, due to his injury), but he was still the youngest captain in NHL history to lead his team to a Stanley Cup victory and raise the Cup. Evgeni Malkin became only the 5th player in history to win the regular and Stanley Cup playoff scoring titles (he also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP). Marc-Andre Fleury proved he can play with the best of them and Marian Hossa chose the wrong team. Of course, there’s always the question of whether the Penguins would have been able to keep the necessary players (like Brooks Orpik) or afford the late season additions that allowed them to win the Cup this year. The NHL Network mentioned that Maxime Talbot specifically said he wanted to meet up with Hossa in the hand shake line and tell him he picked the wrong team. Clearly, he got to do that and I’m sure he enjoyed it as much as he thought he would.
The Penguins didn’t make the playoff run easy for the fans. The Washington series was rough, but the Finals against the Red Wings were even more difficult. Pittsburgh has two reigning teams (the Penguins and Steelers). A friend of mine mentioned that the pressure is on the Pirates now, which is (of course – if you know anything about baseball) hilarious, since the Pirates are most likely to become the team with the longest streak of losing seasons in MLB history this year. Of course, the other end of the state (Philadelphia Phillies) is the home of the reigning World Series champions. Three out of the four top professional team sports – not a bad year for Pennsylvania sports.
Now, we can all look forward to next week’s NHL Awards ceremony and the draft.
Tags: Bryan Trottier, Dan Bylsma, Ducks, Evgeni Malkin, fans, Hockey, Islanders, Kings, Lakers, Marc-Andre Fleury, Mario Lemieux, Maxime Talbot, MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, Penguins, Phillies, Pirates, playoffs, Red Wings, Sidney Crosby, sports bar, Stanley Cup Finals, Steelers
The NHL couldn’t have scripted last night’s game with Crosby vs. Ovechkin better (though I’d bet they would have picked Pittsburgh to win, since they want the series to go to 7 games). In spite of the fact that Malkin won the NHL scoring title this year and until last night had more points than Sid in the playoffs, all the buzz has been about Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin. Alexander Semin had more points than Alex Ovechkin until last night, too. Now, advertising Sid vs. Alex seems to make sense. Crosby stands alone in 2nd place (behind Ryan Getzlaf and no one is going to talk about him – he’s from a southern California team that people still seem to think is lucky for having beaten the Sharks). Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are tied for 3rd with 11 points, though Malkin’s 1.38 points per game beats Ovechkin’s 1.22. At least now they’re talking about the top scoring player on each team, which they weren’t before last night’s hat tricks.
Who would have ever guessed that Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin would both get their first playoff hat tricks in the same game? The league really couldn’t have planned it better unless it was in game 7 of the conference finals. That would be a bit better. Otherwise, it was perfect. The two players the NHL cares to market both got their first playoff hat tricks in the same game. Alex’s third goal in his hat trick was the game winning goal. It really was perfect.
The only problem is that the NHL has no clue how to market itself. Drive around and look at the billboards in any major city and you’ll see ads for the MLB, NBA, NFL – I’ve even seen one for tennis. I’ve never seen a billboard with NHL stars telling me I should watch the NHL. Watch the NHL on NBC and you’ll see ads (I stopped fast forwarding to watch it, since it looked interesting) for watching poker. They even have a hockey themed ad for poker explaining how the games are similar and why those watching the NHL game should stay tuned and watch the poker tournament that follows. Conversely, if you watch the poker tournament or baseball or anything other than the NHL on any channel other than Versus, you’ll never see the NHL playoff ads. The NHL could really use a better marketing director.
Perhaps the NHL will prove me wrong this time, but I’d be completely stunned. They don’t seem to realize that advertising during a hockey game for a hockey game is pretty pointless. I’m already watching. Heck, knowing what channel Versus is on my DVR is a huge step – it’s something your average person on the street wouldn’t know. Ask them where they find ESPN, though, and I’d bet you get a much higher percentage of correct answers and 0% of the people going “What’s that?” Somehow, I think if you polled people on a street corner asking where they can find Versus on their cable or satellite, you’d get a lot of puzzled looks and people saying they’re not sure if they get that channel – and they might not. Versus is a part of my sports package, though ESPN & ESPN2 are both standard. Those of us who are already watching Versus don’t need to be convinced. We watched Sid and Alex both get their first playoff hat tricks last night, but non-hockey fans could have been won over last night. A lot of hockey fans who don’t normally watch other team’s games got sucked into the Ducks/Red Wings game Sunday, since it was exciting. A game going into 3OT where there is one winner and one loser (and no point for losing in overtime) is exciting – especially when it’s a fast-paced game like hockey. Since that game was on NBC, perhaps a few people who don’t normally watch hockey did stumble upon it and get sucked into the action, but without a better marketing strategy I don’t see how the NHL can improve their ratings.
Of course, some cities are better at advertising than others. This may be where some of the people saying that southern California shouldn’t have NHL teams get the support for their argument. In Pittsburgh, during the playoffs, there are banners all over. I drove through Anaheim Saturday night and there was no way anyone could possibly tell that just a few blocks away was the home of the Ducks – in round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. I don’t have experience with the surrounding areas of most teams in the playoffs, but I know that in Pittsburgh stores have signs in their windows and are happy about the Penguins being in the playoffs. That doesn’t happen around here and without the NHL having billboards or any other advertising to let people know, it’s no wonder people only care about the NBA playoffs. If you live in the US and haven’t seen a TNT billboard for the NBA, I’d be pretty surprised. I haven’t watched a playoff NBA game since Rick Fox played for the Lakers, but I know what channel it’s on if someone asked me in random conversation. It just goes to show you that the NBA knows how to advertise. I have a DVR and don’t even watch most games live, but I see ads in magazines and billboards. It would be nice if someday the random person on the street could tell me where you could find the NHL playoffs, just as someone who doesn’t care about the NBA playoffs still knows where to find them.
Tags: Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Capitals, Ducks, ESPN, Evgen, fans, hat trick, Hockey, MLB, NBA, NBC, NFL, NHL, overtime, Penguins, playoffs, Red Wings, Ryan Getzlaf, Sidney Crosby, TNT, Versus