NBC Sports released its 2014-15 NHL schedule last week, and the reaction was that annual combination of celebration and befuddlement.
One interesting aspect of the schedule: The lack of Monday night games on NBC Sports Network. There are three of them scheduled before the end of the calendar year; contrast that with 10 games before Dec. 31 in the 2013-14 season.
Steve Lepore of Awful Announcing spoke with Jon Miller, NBC Sports’ President of programming, and found out that “Monday Night Football” still has some sway over the sports landscape on ESPN:
SL: Your NHL schedule was just released, you’ve kind of moved away from Monday nights this year in favor of a lot of west coast games on Wednesdays.
JM: Quite honestly, you don’t tug on Superman’s cape and you don’t spit into the wind. Monday Night Football on ESPN is a strong franchise and we’d rather use our exposures where we don’t have that kind of really strong competition on Monday nights. We worked with the league, and they agreed, and we’ve been able to move some of the games off those nights, or move them later.
Wednesday Night Rivalry has become a great franchise for us, so we’re continuing to build and improve on that, and that’s where our focus is.
The move might come at the right time, as "Monday Night Football" saw a significant ratings spike last season, posting its best numbers since 2010.
Rivalry Night has taken some criticism from fans for NBC forcing it at times – the Blackhawks and Rangers are rivals? – but the inspiration for it is solid hockey marketing.
SL: That did kind of come out of nowhere, at least out of the lockout, what do you think was key into launching a marquee cable hockey night, which hadn’t really been done before?
JM: That’s the brainchild of Sam Flood, and he always kids me that “hate sells.” When the Flyers are playing the Rangers, those teams don’t like each other. When the Bruins are playing the Canadiens, they’re going at each other, and that’s real serious stuff.
The other thing is that in hockey, which has been so local or regional for so long unlike the NFL, you need to watch the other teams in your division and your conference. I’m a Giant fan, and when the Giants aren’t playing and the Cowboys and Eagles are playing, I’m gonna root for the teams that are playing those teams. We’re trying to build that kind of storyline up with hockey, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job of that.
Watching a team you hate, in the hopes that they’d lose?
In a related story, the Penguins, Flyers, Bruins and Blackhawks are on NBCSN a combined 72 times next season …