NBCSN series offers a revealing look at the NHL
The series is called "NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other," in case the NHL hadn't already made that point by agreeing (after much deliberation) to send its players to the Olympics, to hold what likely will be the most well-attended hockey game ever played and to increase its slate of outdoor games by 600 percent -- including two in the South Bronx.
Oh, one more thing that makes this season unlike several others: no debilitating labor dispute.
"It's a really unique year," NHL COO John Collins said Monday as officials from the league, NBC, CBC and the NHLPA gathered in Manhattan to introduce the aforementioned seven-part series, which is designed to capture all of the above in a casual-fan-friendly manner.
HBO's "24/7" will be back leading up to the NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day, featuring the Red Wings and Maple Leafs and around 107,000 onlookers at Michigan's Big House in a game canceled last season by the lockout.
But that left the fertile behind-the-scenes documentary ground of five other outdoor games, including Rangers vs. Devils on Jan. 26 at Yankee Stadium, followed three days later by Rangers-Islanders there.
The idea is to focus on stars from the nine teams involved in the five games, including the Islanders' John Tavares, Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist and Devils' Martin Brodeur, not only in the outdoor events themselves but in other regular-season games and during the Olympics.
The IOC has its own very particular rules for access during the Games, but the expectation is that the path will be eased by NBC's status as a longtime Olympics rights-holder.
NBC Sports Network will carry the series beginning Jan. 22 and be able to offer wider distribution than HBO.
Unlike HBO, NBCSN has restrictions on vulgarity. But Jon Miller, its president of programming, said viewers are invited to interpret the bleeps as they wish. "If you can read lips, more power to you," he said.
He also noted the return of two coaching stars of "24/7" series past: the Canucks' John Tortorella and the Ducks' Bruce Boudreau, who three years ago as coach of the Capitals authored a profane locker room speech.
There is not much downside to any of this for viewers. But the league risks diluting the Winter Classic.
Collins called the Classic a "jewel" that the league does not want to tarnish, but he said expanding the stadium schedule allowed outdoor games in venues and markets that otherwise might not have had the chance.
Exhibit A: Yankee Stadium, where NBC long has wanted to stage a game but where the Pinstripe Bowl makes a Jan. 1 hockey game impractical.
Voila: Two games in late January, not coincidentally in the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII.
Collins called the three metropolitan-area franchises' presence in Yankee Stadium "a great association for our teams locally."
The other outdoor games are Ducks vs. Kings at Dodger Stadium on Jan. 25, Penguins vs. Blackhawks at Soldier Field on March 1 and Canucks vs. Senators in Vancouver on March 2.
"We don't look at it as dilution on the national level if, in fact, that's the issue," Collins said. "We look at what it does in the local market as far as lighting up hockey and what it does in terms of converting new fans to become hockey fans."
Collins said that though it is unlikely there will be as many as six outdoor games again, there could well be more than one in 2015 and beyond.
"There is no shortage of markets, teams, stadiums, fans in these markets, advertisers, who want these games," he said. "It's a big event in a long regular season."
Final Four, times three
Turner and CBS plan to produce three different telecasts for each semifinal game of the NCAA Final Four, Sports Business Journal reported.
The plan is to have a traditional national telecast on TBS while using TNT and truTV to carry customized telecasts aimed at fans of each of the teams involved, complete with their owns sets of announcers and camera angles.