November 28, 2011
On the biggest shopping day of the year, the National Hockey League tried to sell something to American sports fans: a new tradition.
The NHL Thanksgiving Showdown on Black Friday featured the Detroit Red Wings and the Boston Bruins in an afternoon affair — two Original Six teams with national appeal, one of them the reigning Stanley Cup champions. The game was heavily hyped by NBC on Sunday Night Football, during VERSUS games and even during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, where "Today Show" anchor Matt Lauer called memorably called them the "Boston Brewers."
So how did the game rate? From USA Today:
NBC's Boston Bruins-Detroit Red Wings game Friday — an attempt to expand NHL TV interest before NBC TV games start in January — drew a 1.0 overnight, almost what NBC averages for NHL regular-season games.
Steve Lepore of Puck The Media believes more-of-the-same isn't a bad thing:
The game between the Red Wings and Bruins — a shootout win for Boston [Ed Note: That would be Detroit] — drew a 1.0 overnight. It is believed that no NHL game has aired on network television this early in the season since at least the 1970′s, and perhaps not ever, so there's nothing really to compare it to. A February 13th Boston-Detroit game from last year drew an 0.9, while only two non-special (Hockey Day/Winter Classic) NBC telecasts from last year were better. The NHL and NBC looked to start a tradition here, and I suppose you have to start somewhere.
For a first-time affair that doesn't feature an intense rivalry or Sidney Crosby(notes), and isn't being played in an open-air stadium, it's a respectable rating; especially with No. 1 LSU vs. No. 3 Arkansas and holiday shopping as the rivals.
But big picture, it reveals the NHL's ultimate challenge on network television: Making regular-season games compelling, appointment viewing without the benefit of gimmickry. They haven't cracked that code yet.
The only demerit we'd hand out to NBC — besides the clichés that populated our drinking game — was something frankly out of its hands: The NHL and NBC used Tim Thomas(notes) to help pimp the matchup in pregame hype, including a media conference call. Instead, Claude Julien sat him for Tuukka Rask(notes), playing Thomas in a rivalry game against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday instead. Again, not NBC's fault, but that's the risk you run with players who aren't in the lineup everyday.
What did you think of the Thanksgiving Showdown? Should it become an annual tradition?