Usually, I am not someone who questions what seem like sort of basic decisions networks make. That's because I understand that there's almost always a context for the decisions made by the sports TV people. However, Sunday seems to have a bit of a senseless move by NBC with their NHL coverage.
The St. Louis Blues host the Chicago Blackhawks today on the peacock network. It should be an entertaining game between the top team in the Western Conference and one of their major divisional rivals, who also happen to likely be headed for a playoff spot. The Blues are not guaranteed a post-season berth yet, however, so there is a decent amount at stake.
The game may be a little sluggish, though, because NBC has kept the game in their 12:30 p.m. ET timeslot on Sunday. The decision-making here strikes me as a little confusing. Yes, NBC has had teams in the central and pacific time zones play at 12:30 p.m. ET before, and NBC has even had the Blackhawks host games at 11:30 a.m. local time before. This is the first time, however, that two teams in the central time zone are playing a nationally-televised game in the morning. The Blues and Blackhawks played a regionally televised game in February of last year, but this one's going out to the whole country.
It strikes me as a bit of a mistake. I know the network doesn't want to go up against Masters coverage on CBS, but the Masters being away from NBC gives you the main excuse for moving the game: NBC doesn't have a golf tournament this weekend, so their entire Sunday afternoon lineup is fairly mobile. They have a truck race scheduled to air at 3 p.m. ET and a figure skating/gymnastics combo special at 4 p.m. ET. Neither are airing live.
The simple solution, to me, would've been to air the truck race at Noon ET and then go straight to hockey at 1 p.m. ET. That way this is at least an afternoon start for both teams. Maybe even go as far as moving the game to 1:30 p.m. ET, so this is essentially the equivalent of a regular NBC start for both teams. Don't make them start off in the morning just to benefit east coast viewers, who after the Red Wings and Blues posted the lowest-rated game of NBC's season, probably aren't that much more interested in Blackhawks-Blues.
Again, I know you want to avoid the Masters. It's going to be especially potent this year with the Tiger Woods controversy. But you're going to lose those people at around 2 p.m. ET when Masters coverage begins on CBS regardless of when you started the game. Cater the start time to the two teams, and the two local markets, both of whom watch these teams in big numbers on a local basis.
I understand the reasoning why this game stayed at 12:30 p.m. ET. It's hard, however, to look at the Blues and Blackhawks starting at 11:30 a.m. local time, especially when New Jersey and the Rangers are going to spend the next two weekends on NBC starting games at 3 p.m. ET. Masters or not, more than a little bit of a quirk in the scheduling. I hope they find a way to fix it and get the Central Division teams a bit of a better timeslot next year.