It looks like there will be hockey this season after all. The NHL lockout appears to be over, and the puck could drop on the 2013 season as early as January 19th. While this is good news for a lot of folks, no organization is probably breathing a sigh of relief as loudly as NBC.
The peacock has $2 billion invested in its coverage of the NHL, and desperately needs it to fill time and attract viewer eyeballs to its NBC Sports Network. It’s been a year since NBC rebranded the channel formerly known as Versus to its current incarnation, and since the Tour de France and London Olympics ended, has struggled to find a reason for anyone to watch it. The NHL is supposed to be the channel’s big draw, and now that it’s coming back, maybe viewers will seek the network out prior to this year’s Tour.
If NBC wants its Sports Network to have any hope of gaining even a fraction of the popularity and availability that its competitor, ESPN, enjoys (and it does), it needs the NHL. Actually it needs a lot more that the NHL, but it’s a start.
As for the broadcast network itself, NBC has only had one cancellation, the annual Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. Not ideal, but not the end of the world either. Luckily, the peacock normally doesn’t start covering the NHL on a regular basis till after the Super Bowl. So weekend daytime coverage will resume this spring, like normal, leading into the playoffs.
Who else in the NBC family is breathing easier? How about the folks over at CSN California, where they can finally look forward to an abbreviated Sharks season. Normally, the Sharks take over the channel while the A’s are on hiatus, then the A’s return when hockey season ends. It’s a perfect fit that keeps eyeballs on CSN Cali all year long.
But there’s been virtually no reason to watch it around here up till now. However, with Team Teal heading back to the ice, CSN can presumably salvage the season and bring sports fans back.
There are also three other CSN outlets that cover their local NHL franchise: Chicago, Philly, and DC. So there’s cause for celebration at CSNs across the country.
The Sharks will play a 48-game season which will hopefully be enough to propel them back into the playoffs. Whether 48 contests is enough to make playoffs seem reasonable remains to be seen. Also remaining to be seen: whether hockey fans aren’t too turned off by the lockout to boycott the short season.
Nevertheless, if NBC’s peacock had a mouth, it’d be all smiles right now. Maybe with a few teeth missing.