April 17, 2010
A year ago today, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that Game 3 of their opening round series with the Philadelphia Flyers would not be televised on the popular big screen outside Mellon Arena, despite having been allowed to do so during their run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008.
The reason? NBC, which had the rights to the game, did not want their NHL ratings to be throw off by a couple thousand Penguins fans watching on a big screen rather than the television sets inside their homes.
Fans did not take the news well and launched email and phone campaigns to try and sway NBC's decision. NBC didn't relent and the big screen outside Mellon Arena was shut off for all Penguins games broadcast on the Peacock.
For their first-round Eastern Conference series with the Boston Bruins, the Buffalo Sabres are holding a "Party in the Plaza," a fan gathering outside of HSBC Arena featuring concessions and special guest appearances.
Game 1 featured between 3,000-4,000 fans, according to the Buffalo News, and those numbers will likely grow as the series goes on. For those without tickets, they're able to stick and watch the games on a large screen under a 40 x 120-foot tent -- including Game 2 this afternoon which is to be broadcast on NBC. (After today's game, the tent will likely be gone after complaints from fans that they couldn't see the screen, which is smaller than the one in Pittsburgh.)
The question that will come from Penguins' fans now will be why can this be done in Buffalo and not Pittsburgh.
One reason is that the game footage used on the Sabres' outdoor screen today will be taken from the HSBC Arena Jumbotron, and will use the Buffalo broadcast team of Rick Jeanneret and Harry Neale.
There's no misappropriating the NBC feed in this case, but you can be sure that the local ratings in Buffalo might take a small hit if even more fans show up this afternoon. Buffalo has long been a strong market for hockey on television as shown the city drawing the highest rating for the USA-Canada gold medal game in February.
What might help not draw the ire of NBC in this situation is the fact that the screen isn't an oversized one like in Pittsburgh and that, like the NFL versus church Super Bowl parties, admission to view the game isn't being charged.
This is great for Sabres' fans, as it does nothing but excite fans and give them a unique way to support the team as we've seen in the Pittsburgh.
While NBC's decision to pull the plug on the one outside of Mellon Arena made sense on their end, it only continued to rub hockey fans the wrong way.