NHL on NBC is a TV show that televises National Hockey League games on NBC and is produced by NBC Sports, and televised on NBC and NBCSN in the United States. While NBC has covered the league at various points in its history, the network's current relationship with the NHL is the result of NBC Sports acquiring the league's broadcast television rights from ABC in 2006. Its current contract with the league runs until 2021.
Since 2008, NBC's regular season coverage includes the annual NHL Winter Classic, an outdoor game usually played on New Year's Day; one national weekly regular season game each Sunday afternoon after New Year's Day; one week of regionally televised contests in February for Hockey Weekend Across America; and one nationally televised game on the day after Thanksgiving. NBCSN's coverage includes 90 regular season games that are mostly aired on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings (the latter dubbed Wednesday Night Rivalry), and later in the season on Sunday evenings. Coverage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is split between NBC and NBCSN, with CNBC and the USA Network (beginning in 2015) airing selected playoff games during the first two rounds.
February 25, 1940 and 1966 Edit
As part of a series of experimental broadcasts that W2XBS (now NBC's flagship station, WNBC) produced between 1939 and 1940, the station broadcast a game between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens from Madison Square Garden on February 25, 1940. About 300 people in the New York City area saw the Rangers win, 6-2. Over the next few years, W2XBS (later WNBT) carried some New York Rangers home games on a local basis.
Regularly scheduled American network broadcasts of NHL games would not begin until the late 1950s, when CBS began carrying regular season games, but no playoff games. The deal was terminated in 1960, due to a combination of a dispute over the players receiving a share of the rights fee and the then-regional nature of the sport.
Televised NHL games resumed for the 1965–66 NHL season, but this time on NBC; the regional issues were settled by the league's pending addition of six new teams, which expanded the league's reach nationwide and into lucrative markets in Pennsylvania and California (in addition to two other Midwestern markets; NBC, however, would lose the broadcast rights before the 6 new teams would make it to play). In 1966, NBC became the first television network in the United States to air a national broadcast of a Stanley Cup Playoff game. The network provided coverage of four Sunday afternoon playoff games during the 1965–66 postseason On April 10 and April 17, NBC aired semifinal games between the Chicago Black Hawks and the Detroit Red Wings. On April 24 and May 1, NBC aired Games 1 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Montreal Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings. Win Elliot served as the play-by-play man while Bill Mazer served as the color commentator for the games.
NBC's coverage of the 1966 Stanley Cup Finals marked the first time that hockey games were broadcast on network television in color. The CBC would follow suit the following year. NBC's Stanley Cup coverage preempted a sports anthology series called NBC Sports in Action, hosted by Jim Simpson and Bill Cullen, who were between-periods co-hosts for the Stanley Cup broadcasts.
NHL broadcast rights returned to CBS the next season, however due to other programming commitments, regular season games were handed off to RKO General.
From 1972–73–1974–75, NBC not only televised the Stanley Cup Finals (including a couple of games in prime time), but also weekly regular season games on Sunday afternoons. NBC also aired one regular season and a couple of playoff games in prime time during the first couple of seasons. Tim Ryan and Ted Lindsay (with Brian McFarlane as the intermission host) served as the commentators for NBC's NHL coverage during this period. Since most NHL teams still did not have players' names displayed on the backs of jerseys, NBC persuaded NHL commissioner Clarence Campbell to make teams put on players' names on NBC telecasts beginning with the 1973–74 season to help viewers identify them.
NBC's NHL coverage during the 1970s was probably most notable for the introduction of Peter Puck. The animated character, whose cartoon adventures (produced by Hanna-Barbera) appeared on both NBC's Hockey Game of the Week and CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, explained hockey rules to the home viewing audience.
Besides Peter Puck, the 1970s version of The NHL on NBC had a between-periods feature titled Showdown. The concept of Showdown involved 20 of the NHL's greatest players (16 shooters and four goaltenders) going head-to-head in a taped penalty shot competition. After the NHL left NBC in 1975, Showdown continued to be seen on Hockey Night in Canada and local television broadcasts of U.S.-based NHL teams.
NBC did not broadcast game 6 of the 1975 Finals, in which the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Buffalo Sabres to clinch their second consecutive championship, played in prime time on a Tuesday night. Had the Finals gone to a game 7, NBC would have pre-empted its prime time lineup on a Thursday night to carry that deciding contest. But by that time, the network had informed the NHL that unless ratings for the Finals spiked, it would drop the sport, which it did at the end of the season.
The dark years (1976–1989) Edit
For 17 years after the 1975 Finals, there would be no national over-the-air network coverage of the NHL in the United States (with the exception of CBS' coverage of Game 2 of the 1979 Challenge Cup and Game 6 of the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals and NBC's coverage of the NHL All-Star Game beginning in 1990) and only spotty coverage on regional networks. This was due to the fact that no network was willing to commit to a large number of games, in turn, providing low ratings for NHL games. ABC would eventually resume broadcasting regular NHL games (on a time-buy basis through ESPN) for the 1992–93 season (and continuing through the 1993–94 season before Fox took over the broadcast television league rights for the next 5 seasons).
From 1990 through 1994, NBC only televised the All Star Game. NBC reportedly wanted to test the appeal of hockey, having recently lost the Major League Baseball package to CBS. Shortly thereafter however, NBC would gain the broadcast television rights to the National Basketball Association (NBA) from CBS, thus there was a bit of a notion that NBC no longer really needed hockey.
Marv Albert and John Davidson called the action, while Mike Emrick served as an ice-level reporter in 1990. Meanwhile, Bill Clement served as an ice-level reporter in 1991, 1992 and 1994.
The Montreal Canadiens were slated to host the 1990 All-Star Game, but the team withdrew their bid to considerations due to the superb hosting by Quebec City of Rendez-vous '87. This had allowed the Pittsburgh Penguins, which wanted to host an All-Star Game in 1993, to move up 3 years early. For its part, Pittsburgh's organizers added much more to previous games, creating the first "true" All-Star weekend. Firstly was the addition of the Heroes of Hockey game, a two-period oldtimers' game between past NHL greats. The second was the addition of the National Hockey League All-Star Skills Competition, a competition between the players invited to the All-Star Game. The Skills competition was created by Paul Palmer, who adapted the Showdown feature seen on Hockey Night in Canada from 1972–73 to 1979–80. All-Star players would be rewarded with US$2,500 for any win in the skills competition.
To accommodate the altered activities, the game itself was played on a Sunday afternoon instead of a Tuesday night, as was the case in previous years. This allowed NBC to air the game live across the United States – marking (surprisingly) the first time that a national audience would see Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux play. Referees and other officials were also wired with microphones in this game, as were the two head coaches. Finally, NBC was also allowed to conduct interviews with players during stoppages in play, to the chagrin of the Hockey Night in Canada crew, whose attempts to do likewise were repeatedly denied by the league in previous years.
In 1991, NBC broke away from the telecast in the third period to televise a briefing from The Pentagon involving the Gulf War. SportsChannel America included the missing coverage in a replay of NBC's telecast (NBC owned 50% of Rainbow Enterprises, the parent of SportsChannel America).
There were reports about NBC making an arrangement to air 4 to 8 regular season games for the 1992–93 season but nothing materialized. NHL officials had arranged a 4-to 8-game, time-buy package on NBC, but that fell through when the NHL wanted assurance that all NBC affiliates would carry the games (since 2006, NBC has generally gotten all but a couple of affiliates in the Top-50 markets to carry the games). For instance, in 1990, NBC's affiliates in Atlanta (NBC's coverage of the 1992 All-Star Game aired on the independent station WTLK in that market), Charlotte, Memphis, New Orleans, Indianapolis and Phoenix did not clear the game (Atlanta and Phoenix would eventually receive NHL teams, however the Atlanta franchise relocated to Winnipeg in 2011). Ultimately, roughly 15% of the nation did not have access to the game. As previously mentioned, ABC was the league's network broadcaster instead, and then Fox won a bidding war with CBS for television rights lasting from the 1994–95 through 1998–99 seasons.
Terms of the dealEdit
In May 2004, NBC reached an agreement with NHL to broadcast a handful of regular season games and the Stanley Cup Finals. The plan would call for NBC to air at least 6 weeks of regular season games (3 regional games each week) on Saturday afternoons. Also, NBC will show 8 weeks worth of playoff games. Games 3 through 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals would get prime time berths (OLN/Versus will cover the first 2 games). NBC plans to televise its primary game each week, as well as the Stanley Cup Finals in high definition.
Unlike previous network television deals with the NHL (like FOX, who had the rights from 1994-1999 and ABC, who had the rights from 1999-2004), NBC paid no rights fee, and the network and the league will split advertising revenue. In other words, the NHL will not receive any guaranteed money upfront. NBC would also cover its own production and distribution costs, whereas some minor sports leagues pay for broadcast time and production, but keep any advertising revenue.
The last time NBC Sports entered a television deal which didn't require them to pay any rights fees was in 1994-1995, when they were involved in the Major League Baseball joint venture called The Baseball Network. To a lesser extent, NBC also had a similar sort of revenue-sharing agreement with the Arena Football League.
NBC's out-of-market games were available on NHL Center Ice through 2006-07; NBC switched to stand-alone games in 2007-08.
2004-05 NHL lockoutEdit
NBC's contract with the NHL runs for two years, with a network option to renew for two more. NBC's NHL coverage was delayed a year due to the 2004-05 NHL lockout, which wound up cancelling the entire regular season and playoffs. NBC instead, decided to replace five of its scheduled NHL broadcasts with alternate sports programming (such as reruns of NASCAR Year in Review and The Purina Incredible Dog Challenge). NBC also decided to give one of the slots back to local affiliates.
|Date||Teams||Start times (All times Eastern)|
|1/22/05||Philadelphia vs. New York Rangers
Chicago vs St. Louis
|1/29/05||Tampa Bay vs Boston
Colorado vs Detroit
|2/5/05||Chicago vs Boston
New Jersey vs Philadelphia
|2/19/05||Philadelphia vs New York Rangers
Detroit vs Tampa Bay
|2/26/05||New York Islanders vs. New Jersey
Colorado vs Philadelphia
|4/8/05||New York Rangers vs Boston
Chicago vs St. Louis
2005-06 NHL seasonEdit
The NHL on NBC's new agreement debuted on January 14, 2006, with three regional games (New York Rangers vs. Detroit, Colorado vs. Philadelphia, and Dallas vs. Boston) to substantial praise among hockey fans and writers, who often compare national TV network's presentation to Hockey Night in Canada, which is broadcast in full on the NHL Center Ice package (although some fans even speculated that NBC's playoff broadcasts were superior to CBC's, largely because of announcers and HD coverage of games prior to the Finals). NBC's out-of-market telecasts are also offered through this platform.
2006-07 NHL seasonEdit
For the 2006-2007 season, NBC broadcasted 3 regional games for on weekend dates during the regular season. They will also broadcast on 10 dates during the playoffs (not including Stanley Cup Finals). The additional broadcast windows were expected to replace the Arena Football League, which NBC dropped after the 2006 season. NBC also broadcasted two games per week in high definition, up from one in 2005-06.
The newly titled NHL on NBC Game of the Week premiered for a second season January 13, 2007 with 3 regional games (LA vs. STL, BOS vs. NYR, PIT vs. PHI) at 2:00 p.m. ET. Games will start at various times this season, ranging everywhere from 12:30 to 3:30 during the season (this variation primarily results from NBC's commitments to the PGA Tour and other programming). One or two games aired only on the West Coast (and on NHL Center Ice) will begin at 6:00 p.m. ET, although NBC (and ABC before them) used to have more of these games.
It was also rumored that NBC wanted to broadcast an annual outdoor game (specifically, the New York Rangers vs. the New York Islanders at Yankee Stadium). Having lost rights to the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day to CBS, the possibility of doing a New Year's Day game increased, assuming that NBC would renew its broadcast contract. An outdoor game (instead involving the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins) did end up being added for the 2007-2008 season.
The NHL on NBC moved to Sundays after its season premiere (listed above) for the final 8 dates of the season. NBC's 9 games amounts to the most U.S. broadcast television coverage the league has had since 1998, at the end of FOX's run.
2007 playoffs controversyEdit
On May 19, 2007, during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, NBC angered many fans when it pre-empted coverage of the overtime period of the tied Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres, instead going directly to pre-race coverage of the 2007 Preakness Stakes (a horse racing broadcast generally contains several hours of pre-race coverage, and approximately 2 minutes of actual racing).
Coverage of the overtime period was shunted to Versus, a cable channel available in far fewer U.S. households than NBC, although viewers in the Buffalo market were able to continue watching the game on WGRZ, their local NBC affiliate. The game also continued to air on Rochester affiliate WHEC-TV. The move was widely seen not only as a snub of small-market teams (such as the Sabres), but of hockey in general.
However, NBC and NHL later revealed that the Preakness deal had been made several years before and contained mandatory advertising commitments. Both sides could have agreed that the entire game would air only on Versus or begin earlier in the day, but NHL wanted at least 1 Eastern Conference Finals game to air on NBC, and said that it does not schedule with the assumption that games will go into overtime. Moreover, an earlier start time could not be arranged because the broadcast window was fixed in advance, and both NHL and NBC needed the flexibility to pick Western Conference Finals for that window if they so desired.
In 2006, NBC televised Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Sabres and the Carolina Hurricanes on the same day as the Preakness. Before the game, Bill Clement advised the audience that in the event that the game went into overtime, it would be televised on OLN. The Sabres won the game in regulation.
NHL on NBC FaceoffEdit
For the 2006-07 season, NBC added an online, broadband-only pregame show to its NHL coverage. This is similar to what it does with its Notre Dame football coverage. Titled NHL on NBC Countdown to Faceoff, it airs for a half-hour before every NHL on NBC telecast on NBCSports.com. The show headquarters at "The Rink at 30 Rock" in New York City, hosted by Bill Clement, Ray Ferraro and Brett Hull, and features a breakdown of upcoming action, as well as reports from each of the game sites.
The show usually consists of analysis of the upcoming games, followed by in-depth reports from the announcers at each of the arena sites, then further analysis from the studio, plus a feature on an NHL player.
NHL on NBC Faceoff Edit
For the 2006–07 season, NBC added an online, broadband-only pregame show to its NHL coverage (similar to what it does with its Notre Dame football coverage). Titled NHL on NBC Countdown to Faceoff, the show airs for a half-hour before every NHL on NBC telecast on NBCSports.com and features a breakdown of upcoming action, as well as reports from the game sites and a feature on an NHL player.
On March 27, 2007, NBC Sports and the NHL agreed to a 1 year contract extension with a network option for a second year.
Beginning in 2007–08, NBC incorporated "flex scheduling" for its NHL coverage, similar to NFL broadcasts. Through this method, the league selects at least 3 potential games at the start of the season for most of NBC's regular-season coverage dates. Thirteen days prior to the game, NBC then selects 1 to air as its Game of the Week, then the other 2 games move outside of NBC's broadcast window and return to teams' regional carriers. Since the league made network coverage a priority in the 1990s, regionalized coverage had been the norm; NBC is the first network to attempt to regularly present one game to the entire country. Additionally, studio segments began to originate from the game site instead of 30 Rockefeller Center. All game telecasts also began to be produced in 1080i high definition.
NBC began its 2007–08 schedule on January 1, 2008, with the NHL Winter Classic, an outdoor hockey game between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The game went head-to-head with some of the New Year's Day college football bowl games, but none of the feature Bowl Championship Series games. While never expected to beat or directly compete with football ratings, the timing was designed to take advantage of the large audience flipping between channels to watch the different bowl games. It was the first such game to be televised live by an American network and the NHL's first outdoor regular season game since the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens played the Heritage Classic, which aired on CBC, which served as the Canadian broadcaster of the 2008 Classic. Although originally maligned as a mere publicity stunt by some in the media, the 2008 Winter Classic drew a 2.6 rating in the U.S. (or about 2.9 million viewers) according to Nielsen, the highest rating for a regular-season contest since February 1996, when Fox was the league's network partner. By comparison, CBS received a 2.7 rating for the Gator Bowl, which also had a 1:00 p.m. start.
Beginning that season, all regular season telecasts air mainly on Sunday afternoons, except for those occurring the day after Thanksgiving and on New Year's Day.
In April 2008, NBC announced the activation of its option to retain broadcasting rights for the 2008–09 season. NBC's scheduling for that year was similar to that which it had during the 2007–08 season (flex scheduling for regular-season games, up to five games of the Stanley Cup Finals – changing in 2009 to include the first two and last three games, among others) except that all (or nearly all) of the Sunday-afternoon games now began at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Coverage again included the Winter Classic outdoor game on January 1, 2009, between the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks at Wrigley Field.
The NHL on NBC usually only features U.S.-based teams, except during the Stanley Cup Playoffs when broadcasting a game involving a Canadian team might be unavoidable. NBC has the first choice of games and times on its scheduled broadcast dates. Canadian broadcasters must adjust accordingly during the playoffs.
In 2008, this will change, as Montreal Canadiens will be the first Canadian team featured on NHL on NBC regular season game on February 3. The game will also be on CBC.
Like its predecessors, NBC frequently chooses games with a focus on about five teams (New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Boston Bruins). The relation has very little correlation with team success; for instance, Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, and Buffalo Sabres have made it to conference finals in both 2006 and 2007. Those teams received one and two potential games respectively in the 2008 season, compared to the 7 potential games given to Rangers and the four games which can include Flyers. However, no team can air more than 4 times during the regular season.
The most frequently cited reasons for this relative lack of diversity are low ratings in a market (such as in the case of Anaheim) and market size (such as for Buffalo, where hockey ratings are well above average but the market is quite small compared to others in the league).
Some of NBC's innovations included putting a star clock underneath the scoreboard at the top of the screen. During each game, NBC takes 1 player from each team (for example, during the 1/14/2006 Rangers-Red Wings game, Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan were used) and clocks how long that player is out on the ice each time he comes out for a shift. Also, goalies like Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury wore cameras inside their masks, much like Major League Baseball on FOX uses for catchers. Finally, in what may be one of the more drastic steps taken in broadasting to date, NBC placed analysts (see below for list) in between the two teams benches for what they call Inside the Glass reporting (loosely based on pit reporters used for auto racing telecasts).
- Hockey broadcasting
- Hockey Night in Canada
- ESPN National Hockey Night
- NHL on FOX
- The NHL on ABC
- The NHL on CBS
- The NHL on SportsChannel America
- The NHL on Versus
- List of Stanley Cup Finals broadcasters