On Wednesday night, May 28, the Detroit Red Wings will travel to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of their Stanley Cup Finals series, as the action shifts to NBC. On that same night, and if necessary, will be Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals in the NBA, as the Detroit Pistons travel to face the Boston Celtics on ESPN.
There's already been a firestorm of controversy over the scheduling conflicts between the two popular Detroit teams. But NBC Sports' hockey analysts are convinced that Motor City sports fans are going to choose hockey over hoops.
"It's called Hockeytown for a reason, said Pierre McGuire, NBC's "inside the glass" reporter, on a conference call earlier this week. "I don't think because there's a basketball game being played head-to-head with a Red Wing game it's going to have any effect, due to the fact that it truly is Hockeytown. Their fans are going to watch on TV, and I think they're going to keep their eyes glued to what could be one of the best Stanley Cup Finals we've seen in a long time. Hoorah for Hockeytown!"
Well, that was emphatic. NBC color commentator and former Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk went even further than McGuire. "I will guarantee you that the people of Detroit will have our game on before they'll have that final or whatever the Pistons are in, in the Eastern Conference," he said. "Pierre hit it right on the head: It is a hockey town, and this being a Stanley Cup Finals Game 3 versus whatever game it would be in the Eastern Final for the Pistons ... I'm not afraid of stepping out, and I would say that Game 3 on NBC, we will win that ratings war."
Gary Bettman, in an interview with WDFN-AM, expressed remorse that there was a conflict for Detroit fans, and wasn't sure what the ratings would look like:
The answer is basketball fans will watch basketball, hockey fans will watch hockey and the casual fans will probably flip back and forth. Whatever game seems to be more compelling at the time will probably do the higher number. I will be interested to see. Most people will assume that basketball will beat us from the ratings. We'll have to see what happens.
He's right: If Game 5 is an elimination game for the Pistons -- meaning they could be eliminated -- the Wings get a bump. If Game 3 is a blowout either way for the NHL, and the NBA series is still competitive, then the NBA gets a bump. There can't be any generalizations; it's all about the specific conditions in place next Wednesday.