NBC Sports Network will likely either approach or set audience records for Game 3 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, which aired on Monday night. They came close on Saturday night, with Game 2 drawing 3.96 million viewers. American viewers aren't happy, though, because the network is not available in as many homes and, therefor, the NHL and NBC should make every effort to end this tradition and put every game of the Stanley Cup Final on broadcast television.
That's not going to happen, for a lot of reasons. I know hockey fans in the United States aren't going to like hearing this, but NBC needs to grow NBCSN with exposures like the ones they got on Saturday night and Monday night. They've done everything they can, now, to ensure that all elimination games (Games 4-7) will air on broadcast television. After the debacle that was the Kings potentially clinching on cable in 2012, this appears to be the new format, at least for the foreseeable future.
The Stanley Cup Final airing on NBCSN is a blatant attempt to make more people aware of a network that needs to. Depending on what kind of Olympic content they get, the channel may not see audiences as big as Saturday and Monday until at least the next Olympics. They need to attempt to get subscribers and non-subscribers alike aware of the network. If they're ever going to be in as many homes an ESPN, this needs to happen.
Hockey fans also have to recognize that this is where television is going. It may seem completely fruitless to spend all the years the NHL has spent attempting to perfect its presence on broadcast television just as it become irrelevant, but that's what's happening. The college football and basketball championship games will be on cable next year. By 2014, almost all of the MLB Playoffs will be on cable. An NFL post-season game will move to ESPN. This is where we're headed.
Frankly, NBC Sports Network isn't that far away from NBC. I know a lot of people thought the audience from Game 1 to Game 2 might increase, just because that's the natural way. People forget, however, that Saturday is essentially a dead zone as far as television goes. How do you know that? Well, the 3.96 million viewers for Game 3 on NBCSN made it the most-watched program on all of television that night. Not just on cable. No broadcast network program drew more viewers than anything over on NBCSN at channel 1456 or whatever. In all honesty, NBCSN probably came within a million viewers of what NBC would've drawn.
I don't like treating hockey fans like their complaints are the antagonist against the practices of a business. I know for a fact that there are still some viewers absolutely driven to madness over the fact that they still don't get the channel. It's still getting better, however, and hockey fans have to realize that it isn't going to change. We're not getting Boston/Chicago in the Final every year. We're not in a place where a non-big market Final isn't going to embarrass on national television yet. The 6.3 million viewers of Game 1 is not sustainable. While NBC has no plans to move more games onto cable, rest assured that they're not likely to buy high on hockey and move it entirely to broadcast television.