It’s never good when the conversation surrounding a game that featured the best player in the NHL is taken over by what happened on the ice on a disappointing schedule.
The last Canadian team in the playoffs, Connor McDavid and the Oilers faced elimination heading into Game 6. Considering the magnitude of this game and the fact that it’s the only NHL game on the schedule, it would make sense if the time was up. It was aimed at a national audience, not just the local market. But the 10 pm (ET) start in Edmonton or 8 pm in Edmonton did not reflect that. It was a questionable start time that made it difficult to watch the game anywhere outside the Pacific Time Zone.
Sunday is a day of the week that starts at 7:00 p.m. local time. During the regular season, most games are scheduled earlier in the day. But the playoffs aren’t the regular season, so it’s not an apples-to-apples situation. If anything, the schedule change in the postseason is to increase the viewership of each game on the schedule – that’s why the Dallas and Minnesota games started later in the 1st round, sometimes as early as 8:30 local time (with puck drop at 8:50). ) ) to avoid overlap with Eastern Conference games.
So it’s especially weird when it happens. Only Not only is Day’s game delayed for East Coast viewers, but it’s where the game is being played – especially on Sunday night. It wouldn’t be that controversial on a Friday or Saturday night. But a late start on a Sunday will hurt viewers, regardless of the importance of the game. It won’t help attract young fans who can’t stay up on a school night. For those who can’t watch the game until 12:30am, it won’t help with work the next morning. And it doesn’t click with European markets who might be interested in seeing Leon Draisaitl, William Karlsson and Matthias Ekholm on this big stage.
It’s even more confusing when it starts last week at 7pm (ET) Saturday. Even though it was the only game on the schedule, it wasn’t an ideal spot for anyone — on the East Coast in prime time or for a team in the market. That game, with less urgency given where they are in that series, could have easily been offered to local markets using series-clinching games at nationally enforced spots.
Wonky scheduling is nothing new in the NHL. This is a theme of the regular season, with games overlapping on certain days, often at the same time, making it impossible to expand the audience. Friday nights don’t get much action, and neither do Mondays. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, on the other hand, tend to be crowded with games.
Not the first confusing pick this season. Check out the Maple Leafs unscheduled Saturday night game, one of the biggest for Canadian viewers. That didn’t do their TV partner Sportsnet any favors.
Somehow, the suspenseful season between the Golden Knights and Oilers was par for the course for Game 6. But it is no excuse to expect the league to screw up the schedule. Instead, it’s another missed opportunity to step up the game.
So why was this game decided when it was?
On Sunday, dealing with other ESPN programs was a priority. Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Celtics and 76ers begins at 3:30 pm (ET). Then every Sunday night baseball at 7 pm (ET). It doesn’t matter that it’s a lopsided game between the Cardinals and Red Sox early in the season, ESPN has a contract with MLB, and that tends to draw more viewers than the NHL — even a game of great importance.
Baseball was a priority, which is why they didn’t find him running late to another station at 10pm (ET). There was a split screen for a few minutes, much to the chagrin of hockey and baseball fans.
For hockey fans, an elimination game with McDavid and Draisaitl will sell, regardless of the opponent. Going up against Jack Eichel, Mark Stone and a team as intriguing as the Golden Knights makes it all the more exciting, especially when you consider how exciting this series has been with explosive, close games, masterful plays and back-and-forth and physicality.
But that might not sell to a national audience either, unless they’re already into hockey. Alignment with the Canadian team does not help networks in the United States. What makes matters worse is that McDavid and Draisaitl’s star power hasn’t gone over the ice, especially in America. It’s not the two players who bring in memorable personalities like Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski with their mastery on the field and building audiences off it. And that’s part of the reason the schedule hasn’t changed to show this game – the views don’t compete regardless.
By playing this game at 10 pm (ET), ESPN will get their full day of programming in between the priority slots between the NBA playoffs, MLB and NHL playoffs. Could ESPN have dropped this game earlier, perhaps in a real Eastern prime time slot, on ESPN 2? Of course, of course, they can have. But why do they compete with themselves and take standards from their other programs? Why take the chance of extended live content on their main site?
Why didn’t he just give the game to Turner then?
why? has been they? Then he opens the door other Compete with the network overlay board. That’s not good for business at the end of the day, and that’s what it’s all about. The NHL has a deal with ESPN, and that won’t change. If the audience changes, the prices will not change. That’s why it’s okay for the networks to feature two smaller market teams in the East in Round 3. Nothing will change for them, and it may not be a priority unless big US markets like New York, Boston, Chicago or Detroit are involved.
While many clamor for a deal between the NHL and ESPN because of the network’s reach, the reality is that they were never a priority — not even for NFL, NBA, MLB, or NCAA football. The bright side is the exposure of being on the ESPN networks, but the downsides are obvious. The only way the league can push that is by scheduling that allows for more leverage in their contracts, or to generate more interest in hockey that fans want to watch every time it’s on. The former can’t be because the deal is already done and the latter is something they couldn’t consistently do.
The league will tell you that the best way to market the game and attract new fans is to let the game speak for itself, especially when popular players emerge (you’d think that would be their reason for a bare-bones marketing experiment, at least). If that’s the case, it’s hard to do that when the greatest player in the NHL in McDavid and perhaps one of the greatest playmakers in recent history in Draisaitl is at a bad time for a national audience. How does this create attention if few are watching? This is why a lot of concerted effort had to be made to market the game quickly and creatively.
While McDavid and the Oilers ultimately fell short, the action on the ice kept the national audience tuned in to the final minute of the epic contest. The league didn’t get the memo, though, and continued to get in its own way as it stepped up its game.
(Photo of Connor McDavid as the Golden Knights celebrate their Game 6 victory: Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)