When Sidney Crosby scored the overtime goal to clinch gold for Canada, the most successful sport in the Olympics came to an end. Olympic hockey drove the ratings throughout the Olympics, with CNBC and MSNBC offering limited commercial breaks and solid commentary. The ability to broadcast live games – such as the Canada-US gold medal match – greatly helped the ratings. And for that gold medal match, NBC drew 27.6 million viewers, the highest hockey rating since the tape-delayed U.S. vs. Finland gold medal game in 1980.
The Olympic hockey action drew a wide range of new and old viewers to the sport. But Olympic hockey differs in a few key ways from the NHL game. It moved quicker, didn’t allow fighting, and showed several all-star teams taking each other on. The Olympic product was high quality, but there are plenty of things the NHL can consider to improve their on-ice product and keep new fans watching the game.
Number 1: Keep The Game Going
As we all know, sometimes a hockey game can drag. There are those games when there seems to be seven whistles every minute. But, in the Olympics, many of the games seemed to flow. I would watch the game, look at the clock and realize five or ten minutes had already ticked off the clock. The Olympics kept the flow of the game while limiting the amount of commercials shown. With the games on CNBC and MSNBC the majority of the time, NBC probably could afford the advertising loss. But the NHL should take note.
Many viewers enjoyed the fast pace and almost non-stop action of the Olympic games. While watching the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche game last night, I realized the Olympic system could work for the NHL. If networks can keep commercial breaks to a minute or two, then the break in the action won’t be so noticeable. Then it won’t seem as if there is a clear break in the action. It’ll keep the breaks short and the action flowing.
Number 2: Institute No-Touch Icing
The Olympic rules differ from the NHL, including the no-touch icing rule. While I don’t know if I’m 100% in agreement with no-touch icing, the rule should be instituted in the NHL. There are too many injuries (or possibility of injuries) that result when two players chase down the puck. With the NHL attempting to become safer, no-touch icing becomes a no-brainer. You eliminate the possibility of a boarding or cross-checking penalty during the chase, and the game moves quicker.
Number 3: Continue To Pump The Game’s Stars
As much as I hate to see Crosby every Tuesday on Versus and Sunday on NBC. But the NHL must capitalize on their young stars. Think about it: how many times do ESPN and TNT feature the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic or the Los Angeles Lakers? These teams dominate the NBA coverage on these networks. The NHL needs to commit to the same thing. While it may be nice to show the Phoenix Coyotes or Columbus Blue Jackets, these teams aren’t going to draw interest. The NHL needs to make sure they feature Alexander Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby and the big-market teams. If the league does this, they can build their brand and name recognition with the game’s biggest young stars.
Number 4: Get the NHL off Versus
One of the biggest issues the NHL faces is its contract with the Versus sports network. Versus is seen as the obscure sports station, showing Pac-10 sports, Indy Car racing, and other obscure tournaments. While the network built solid coverage around hockey, Versus doesn’t reach enough viewers. While networks such as NBC, CBS and FOX come standard, Versus doesn’t come standard. According to a Ken Campbell article, FOX may bid to get the NHL back. With no major sports coverage between the NFL and baseball season, putting the NHL back on FOX would give the league a wider audience. As long as they don’t bring back the glowing puck, it might not be a bad idea for the NHL to sign on with FOX.
Number 5: Let the players play in Sochi
Of course, the NHL needs to allow their players to continue to play in the Olympics. While Vancouver allowed the ability to show live games, Sochi, Russia will be different. It will be more of a challenge, but the NHL players love playing. The NHL is full of diverse players from several different countries, and they should be allowed to play for their nations. The NHL players also put on a show, and to not give the Olympics the best players would hurt both products. I’ve seen Ryan Miller posted all over Sportscenter today because he may be given the night off tonight. When would such a routine move come under such national scrutiny? The players need to continue to play in the Olympics to draw attention to the NHL and show off the ability of players in the league. If they don’t, it takes away a golden marketing opportunity for the league.
If the NHL adopts even one or two of these changes, it’ll go a long way to enhancing the product they put on the ice. With some of these changes, the league can hope to keep the momentum – and new fans – coming back and becoming regulars. The Olympics gave the NHL a golden opportunity, and some of these changes can bring immediate success.
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