Fare Thee Well, NHL on NBC

With the Lightning’s 2nd straight Stanley Cup win on Wednesday, the NBC era of NHL TV history has paused with ESPN and Turner Sports coming into the fold next season. What start as an exclusive three-year, $200 Million TV deal with the Outdoor Life Network turned into a deal that will net the NHL over $4 Billion in their incoming deal with the new networks.

It was a joke to start, many fans in the US– already reeling from a season that was cancelled– now had their sport in one of the least attractive channels they could have thought about and one many didn’t know if they had or not on their cable provider. Don’t even get started on hotels having it for people on the road– even to the end of days with NBCSN.

But it progressed for the better. While the production was one that was nothing too different from other productions, the deal with NBC spawned many things like the outdoor games people can’t get enough of and more dedicated coverage to the game, as it was the first major sports property for OLN. Of course, it also gave people the horrid Tuesday All-Star Game and the beta-version of a rail cam for that event. Then it turned to Versus, a little more interesting of a name for a sports network, but it’s something that didn’t make people think it was just hockey, hunting, and (according to my friend and mentor Sean O’Connor) fish racing.

Versus allowed the NHL to have multiple games per week on the network, plenty of coverage around the game times, and possibly a new voice for things to come. NBC Universal saw the potential and bought up the Versus property, turning it to NBC Sports Network while signing the NHL to a 10-year, $2 Billion exclusive deal. Not without its hiccups, the NBCSN was still something the normal layperson had trouble finding, playoff coverage got bumped for horse racing on the main NBC network, and while some new personalities were able to shine– familiar voices, both good and bad, were around for the duration of it. Not to mention, more features happening like more mic’d up players and commentators between the benches. NBC did all they could to make some more entertainment for folks watching the games.

If nothing else, the NBC/NHL partnership allowed the league to have a dedicated spot for a long amount of time. Sure, there are plenty of reasons to dislike NBC and what fans wanted out of it– but when a media company as big as NBC Universal invests that much into the league, in the grand scheme; it helped with revenues for the league and was a hub for hockey in its tenure.

Fans are a fickle bunch when it comes to the presentation they want to have on their screens. Everyone is sick of the same teams over and over– but in the TV business, that’s the way to get ratings and advertising dollars. Will we see a change for ESPN and Turner?? Maybe not at the start of things. But that’s why ESPN+ exists for whatever their Center Ice parallel will be on that platform; all the games will exist from the local markets doing them.

The NHL on NBC didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, they just had to keep the vehicle of the NHL going. It put trust in the league with their long-term deal and in-turn, the league didn’t need to worry every other year where their national games were being held. People shouldn’t expect the wheel to be reinvented with ESPN or Turner either. Just keep the vehicle moving, be entertaining, and be informative– people are going to shout their hate for something into the social media void regardless of what’s put out there. Just keep things rolling and see what happens in seven years’ time.

An Open Letter to Turner Sports

To the Executives of Turner Sports,

Hey there– I’m Scott Wasilewski, AKA Scotty Wazz. Over the last 19.5 years, I’ve been podcasting about hockey on Face Off Hockey Show. Much more than hockey, it’s a show about life with three hosts who’ve grown up together in life and in the broadcasting world.

Look, I could spout off numbers about how we’re in the top-20 all-time of hockey podcasts on Apple Podcasts or all the events we’ve been a part of whether it be with the NHL, AHL, ECHL, WHL, NAHL, or IIHF. I could tell you I’ve personally have written for FHM Magazine or had articles published on Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy blog in its heyday. But honestly, what does that do other than being self-serving and egotistical.

Let’s get down to brass tacks– we need each other.

You might not know it, but there’s a lot of recycled voices out there in hockey. If it’s not recycled, there’s a lot of parrots out there in the hockey community. Face Off Hockey Show doesn’t have that….okay, we might recycle jokes to death, but that’s a different meeting for a different time. The point is that our outside-the-box points-of-view is something we use to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the other voices out there in the loud landscape. On top of that, our crew all were born in Maryland– an nontraditional hockey market. Turner Sports is, to some, an nontraditional hockey broadcast partner.

With your company starting fresh in the NHL broadcasting landscape, what better way to do it than with some fresh voices on the network?? Not only that, but you look at the chemistry of Ernie, Kenny, Chuck, and Shaq on your NBA property– I’m not saying we’d be that by any means– but we could bring that energy, analyst, and light-hearted banter that people can relate to.

There’s a unique opportunity, TS– can I call you TS?? No?? Okay, Turner Sports overlords. This is a chance to give a different look to normally mundane hockey broadcasts or presentation of the game above the dull, robotic, run-of-the-mill stuff we already get from the game. Plus, it’s a big chance to revamp what the broadcast could look and sound like with this new seven year deal.

ABBA said it best when they said, “You can dance, you can jive…”

Wait…no, that’s not it. Whatever the lyrics from “Take a Chance On Me” that would be poignant in this situation– that’s what I’m going for here.

The point is this– we’ve been at this for a while now. We have the credentials to show for it. All we need now is the backing to prove to the masses what we’ve proved to our loyal listeners/watchers/readers for decades now. Fresh faces, fresh network, fresh presentations. And maybe this is a time for a fan-centric angle to be at the table of some of these broadcasts and be a different voice in the room.

Feel free to slide into my DMs to chat some more.

Take care of yourself and someone else: Scotty Wazz

PS: My co-host Jon Pitonzo and I are big AEW fans as well, so– if that helps any….

NHL and ESPN Are Together Again

According to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, NHL fans may be getting what they want with ESPN signing a new deal with the NHL to become on of their media partners starting next season. ESPN will get rights to four Stanley Cup Finals between 2022 and 2028 and streaming rights to the league. The NHL and NBC deal ends at the end of this season and plenty of people were clamoring for the NHL to go elsewhere. It may look like they’ve partial gotten their wish.

The NHL hasn’t been a regular entity on ESPN’s family of networks since 2004, they have had games on ESPN+ over the past couple of seasons, as well as beefing up their coverage of hockey thanks to the work of Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski, as well as Chris Peters– who was let go from ESPN during the pandemic. With NBC Sports Network going dark in lieu of PeacockTV, it only makes sense that ESPN would pick up the lead in this for the TV side.

While this does seem like a step in the right direction, the issue remains whether or not it’ll tip the scales all that much and if we’ll actually get a change in the teams being broadcasted. The biggest issue when the NHL spurred ESPN for the old Outdoor Life Network was because ESPN didn’t see the NHL as a money making entity and low-balled them on a new deal. Has that sentiment changed at all?? Maybe. Honestly, though, I don’t see the NHL getting as much screen time on a network that is jammed up with other, more profitable for the network sports.

It would be great to have the ESPN talking heads be all about the NHL and yell and bitch on their overpaid showcases of hot takes that mimic a talk show– but I don’t see that happening. If nothing else, the NHL gets more exposure due to the notoriety that ESPN has over other sports networks. That said, I don’t see it really tipping the needle in terms of exposure to the sports for people since the NHL will move to fourth on the depth chart of sports over the defacto top spot they had on NBCSN. Granted, it was the NHL or Meecum Auctions, so the competition of the networks wasn’t that stiff.

Yet, when you think about it– the numbers could be slightly better just due to reach, but outside of that– who knows what that could bring. You have to think that an NHL Tonight type show will be around; but outside of that– what’s it going to take for people to notice the NHL on ESPN?? More importantly– how long before NHL fans bitch about not receive the coverage they think they should get on the World Wide Leader??

In the grand scheme, this is an upward move– how can it not be?? ESPN is everywhere and they have a multitude of platforms on the TV side that people can get to on cable and whatnot. Streaming rights are what they are, which makes me wonder if things don’t go swimmingly or other leagues start to demand more, if that was a safety net installed to put the NHL on ESPN+ when all is said and done and only use ESPN or ESPN2 for the bigger events. This also doesn’t account for who the other partner would be for the other half of the NHL rights and how those two will co-exist.

But for not, strike up the National Hockey Night theme and relive the good-old days of hockey on ESPN.

On the Topic Of Second-Screen Viewing

As the St. Louis Blues closed out their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, the NBC machine rolled on with all the stock lines that Mike Emrick has compiled through his years of broadcast and recycle them for this moment. Pierre McGuire talked to a player and told him to have fun. Eddie Olczyk was probably looking at the race form for the track tomorrow. Then when their NBC slotted time was up, they all left and let the NBCSN crew take it from there.

That’s when I thought…why are they just now getting a bigger chance on the biggest stage for their sport?? It seems like they had to be put in some position post-game to warrant getting shipped out there and all of that. There’s times in Jeremy Roenick’s interviewing that you prayed for Pierre to come back and talk to these guys– because he knows how to and JR really doesn’t.

It also makes me wonder if there’s a chance that NBC and NBCSN can team up for possible clinching games to have a two-screen experience and an alternate to their regular coverage that people would want to see. Granted, that would maybe hurt ratings by splitting them, but ratings are in actuality a scheme created by boxing and wrestling to make something bigger than it actually is and in the end– it means nothing. I mean, hell– NBCSN was showing tape-delayed Monster Jam episodes which, I’m sure has an audience, but they’ll still be watching at midnight and beyond for that stuff or during one of the many replays they’ll have.

The second-screen thing for a championship has been done before by NBC and NBCSN for NASCAR’s final race of the year in Homestead. The main network had the usual race broadcast with the regular broadcasting crew, whereas NBCSN had the in-car cameras for each of the Championship 4 contenders, more in-car audio, and alternate commentators to give another side of the spectrum.

Granted, the two sports are different animals, but you have to look at the possibility of alternate camera work, alternate broadcasters, or even a possible “Watch Along” thing where there’s people brought in to comment over the game, as if you were in a bar setting. It’s something that maybe by that time– people are sick of Doc, Eddie, and Pierre, maybe people would like a different take, maybe people want another option, and– like me– maybe people cut the cord and have a crappy antenna and live in the middle of nowhere so they can’t get local channels unless they get YouTube TV….or something.

Yet, what better way to create a buzz for your broadcast than to have different viewing options for the biggest games?? Sportsnet has like 190 different channels that they could do the same thing with different people. There’s plenty of talking heads that can be there to fill the void of the dead spaces, so what’s the issue with having an alternative to the original?? Some people may like the traditional way better, whereas you could hook some new people onto the alternate voices, as well. Variety can be good and having options is great, too. Couldn’t hurt to try.

Bring Back the NHL Showdown

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Plain and simple, the Skills Competition is the best part of All-Star Weekend. It allows players to show off their stuff and gives them a little bit of personality to the viewing public. It was started in 1990 for players to show of and settle some arguments that people could have…if they even cared.

However, the biggest issue that not all of the players with the hardest shot, top speed, or most accuracy are at the All-Star Weekend. That was definitely known when Mat Barzal didn’t have a chance to try and beat Connor McDavid for the fastest skater title. Plus, I’m sure that there’s someone in the league that has a harder shot than Alex Ovechkin. Some teams have annual skills competitions in-house for the fans, so why not take the top players from there for the skills competition.

Or just revitalize a show from the late 1970s and early 1980s on the CBC. It was something put together by the NHLPA and the CBC and played during the intermission of Hockey Night in Canada. As Joe Pelletier mentioned in his post about it, the NHL tried to block the players from doing it because of the risk of injury. I’m sure something like that would happen now, so it’s a far-fetched thing to think about.

Yet, think about it. You want to have new TV ideas for hockey– this would be perfect. It’d show off the game’s most skilled players, they’d be able to profile some players who may not get the national attention as others, and it would be a nice change of pace from what They have now. You could also include some younger players in the AHL or CHL to display their skill or what-have-you. Hell, get some retired players– why not??

Plus, you could make this into a tournament event with the final four or five going onto the big show at the All-Star Weekend. There’s plenty of incentive for it, as much as some owners or GMs may not like it; it’s something to showcase the players in light-hearted competition and show off the skill of their game. Everyone wins, when you look at it from a broader scale.

How to Fix the NHL Network With New BAMTech/Disney Venture

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As I sit here and watch the NHL Network’s lack of diversity in their programming, I’m wondering if there’s a way that Disney/ESPN can make the network better.

I wonder this after Disney acquired BAMTech, which holds the digital rights and direction of the NHL Network for the NHL. This, of course, was something that sparked some discussion this past week about ESPN finally being able to show hockey again…sort of. With the Disney purchase, that means that ESPN would be able to stream games through NHL.TV and, I’m sure, ESPN3 will have some kind of hand into this pot.

Let’s be honest– the ESPN streaming idea could be a thing that saves the idea of the NHL Network if they are willing to change up the format, add new life into the network with new show ideas and concepts, and if they get some different voices on there aside from the same rotation of people we see on the network already.

Yes, it’s the NHL Network, but could it hurt for them to expose some other leagues more than just games in the AHL and Major Junior leagues once a week?? Maybe a weekly recap or feature show?? That shows you are letting the hockey fan inside the top prospects that could be coming into the league soon enough.

However, right now– it’s easier to go ahead and show the same garbage Top-20 List every hour on the hour and then NHL Tonight and NHL On the Fly in the other parts of the day. When it’s not any of that, it’s the same specials about the same events over and over again.

It’s something that makes me furious about the NHL Network because the archive they have and the ability they have to show off games from the past is something some people would love to see. To have shows with former players and the stories they can tell in an intimate setting (see the format for WWE’s Table for 3). But the NHL Network and the people running it are lazy when it comes to ideas. Do a copy/paste of what you think people want to see and call it good.

It’s not hard to make the NHL Network successful. There’s plenty of ideas out there to be had to improve upon what they have now, but at the same time– the drive has to be there as well. That latter point is really the thing holding the NHL Network away from being a completely relevant source for hockey fans to go to for entertainment outside of the games themselves.