As I mentioned earlier today, I spent much of the fall following the National Football League's television practices, rather than the NHL's. There were some things I got used to. Like unfunny jokes being laughed at nonstop, or Phil Simms saying things that make no sense. You get used to it as the weeks go on and the season heads toward the playoffs. So many people watch football, it's hard to remember that, despite that, there are still a ton of people who do not care whatsoever.
I got a big jolt of "not everyone watches football" fever yesterday, when NBC employed what is a pretty standard business practice from the NFL on their National Hockey League coverage. Early in the third period, with the Los Angeles Kings trailing the Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 4-1, NBC pulled the game from pretty much every market aside from Los Angeles and the greater Chicagoland area and switched them over to the simultaneous Pittsburgh Penguins-Philadelphia Flyers game.
The gang at Jewels From the Crown were very upset:
First NBC made sure that everyone got to watch the banner raising ceremony before the Kings played their home opener against the Blackhawks. Then they made sure that most of the country couldn't watch the end of it.
Fans were left in the lurch when the network made the decision to go back on its split regional coverage plan without any warning. Only viewers in Chicago and LA proper got to see the rest of the third period. Elsewhere in California or Illinois? Anywhere in the West at all? Nope, too bad.
I live in Seattle. Our plan to meet up with friends at our usual bar to watch the game suddenly became a trainwreck. We had no idea why the Kings coverage was interrupted, or what to do next; we sat there for a while hoping there was some technical glitch. Almost immediately after we lost the ability to watch, the Kings and Blackhawks traded goals. We had to discover this--and the howls of rage from other frustrated fans--scrolling frantically on our phones.
Because NBC had picked up the game, local affiliates couldn't cover this important opening day. Center Ice, the usual go-to for out-of-market fans, wasn't an option. You could stream the game for free if you were near a computer -- until, incredibly, the live stream of that switched to Penguins/Flyers too.
I didn't have a big problem with it. It's used all the time in other sports, most prominently football, though I'll note that there was one complaint I would lodge: adjacent markets also being switched over. For example, people in San Diego -- 125 miles from Los Angeles and likely host to a decent number of Kings fans -- and Indiana -- which has a large swath of Hawks fans -- were seeing Penguins-Flyers. It's fine to switch further away markets like Seattle, Detroit, Dallas and Denver to the other game, but I'd play it safer and keep people within 200-250 miles of the teams playing watching their game.
Also, and obvious complaint would be keeping Center Ice, or some other television option, open for those fans. I know not everyone has a tablet, or even a laptop capable of high-quality streaming. These people shouldn't be shut out of their favorite team. As I've often said, the future is coming, but not that quickly. NBC should've kept some sort of traditional option open for people to watch both games.
Another snafu for NBC viewers: people didn't know that the network was going to cover the entire Kings' banner ceremony, and then show the first few minutes of Blackhawks-Kings, before switching half the country over to Penguins-Flyers. Now, I reported multiple times that this would happen -- with Pens-Flyers facing off at 3:35 p.m. ET -- but I'm merely one man, with a limited reach at that. NBC should have done a better job of explaining their plan of staggered start times.
Other than that, however, I thought it was a solid opening day strategy for NBC from a business perspective. They had two big buzz events -- the Kings' banner-raising and a Pens-Flyers rematch -- and they kept viewers aware of both games. By the time one of the games became uncompetitive (and please know, they likely would have done the same if Pens-Flyers had been a blowout), they switched most of the country over to the more competitive game, likely garnering them a better rating late in the day. Their strategy clearly worked out, but they needed to make the strategy more accessible to the fans.