The NBC sports group released its official national broadcast schedule for the NHL on Monday. You've probably already seen it at this point, but here are some of the highlights:
- There will be 105 games shown on NBC or NBCSN next season (which appears to be 104 regular season games plus the All-Star game).
- Twelve teams are featured 10 or more times, led by the Chicago Blackhawks with a somewhat silly 21. Four Canadian teams - Calgary, Ottawa, Vancouver and Winnipeg - will not be featured at all, and eight US-based teams have four or fewer games. Five of those teams - Arizona, Carolina, Columbus, Florida and New Jersey - get just one.
- (Seriously, way to find some sort of middle ground, schedule makers. Each US-based team participates in an average of 8.7 games, but only three teams are in the 5-10 range.)
There are plenty of criticisms to make of the overall schedule, but before we get into some of those, here's the basic break down by teams:
That seems a little bit all over the place, though the standouts can be easily seen. So what's the most important predictor of being picked for a national game? Is is making the playoffs? Is it time zone? Is it being an Original 6 team?
The answer to all of those are they certainly work in a team's favor, but they're not the most important predictive factor in teams ending up on an NBC or NBCSN broadcast. The most important factor is whether or not the team in question has its primary television contract with a CSN network.
There are four CSN-broadcast teams to my knowledge - Chicago, Philadelphia, San Jose and Washington. Those teams average 15.25 games on a national network versus 7.35 games for the average US-based, non-CSN team. Heck, let's even throw out Chicago since their 21 games are a slight outlier, though not by a huge amount. Even with a mix that includes two non-playoff teams and the Capitals, the CSN teams still average 13.33 national games.
Now compare that to the national attention from making the playoffs. The 11 US-based playoff teams from last season will average 11.27 national games, a number that drops to 10.33 when you throw out the Blackhawks. Non-playoff US-based teams will average 6.33 games.
Here's that comparison in graphic form:
Another way to look at it is this - all four CSN teams are in the top 11 in terms of national games with the Hawks' 21 and Flyers' 18 being first and tied for second respectively.
The other notable predictor was being a part of the Original Six. The US-based Original 6 teams average 11.5 games while the non Original Six group average 5.79. This was, again, heavily influenced by Chicago's 21 games, though none of the four US-based Original Six teams have fewer than 10 nationally-televised games.
Out of curiosity, I broke it down by division as well.
The Pacific Division really takes it on the chin here with just 27 nationally televised participants. Even at the per-US team level, throwing out those dastardly Canadians, it's a rather paltry 6.75 average. Yes, a chunk of that is due to the on-average later start time, but as many pointed out Monday on social media, teams do travel east.
The Central has a pretty solid 64 games (insert Blackhawks disclaimer here - without them, the average drops from 10.7 per US team to 8.6), but combined, the West's 91 games is well shy of the East's 117 (with 49 in the Metro and 68 in the Flor-east).
There can be some pretty strong variety within a division:
The CSN Bay Area curve hits here, with the playoff-missing Sharks being the most "promoted" team from this division. With the Kings recent success and huge market, 10 games makes sense for them, but four is a rather paltry number for the Ducks given their Western Conference Finals berth and hate-marketable duo in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
(And yes, I am every so slightly offended on behalf of the Ducks. Express your outrage below.)
The Central curve amuses me. There are the outlier (and CSN Chicago darling) Blackhawks, some strangely consistent data across two playoff teams in the Wild and Blues plus the pretty puzzling Avalanche, then basically ignoring Dallas and perennial playoff contender Nashville. The Avs don't appear to draw huge ratings either, so I'm left with the theory that NBC sports executives haven't watched the team since the glory days of the late 1990s.
The Northeast is the only division without a CSN team, but they make up for that with two Original Six members. It's a little surprising the Stanley Cup finalist Lightning didn't get more play here, as they are east coast, young, exciting and marketable, but I guess the draw of a playoff-missing Bruins fanbase and the aging Red Wings core is just too much to resist.
Finally we have the amusing curve from the Metro Division, where a team that missed the playoffs and a team that backed their way into the final Wild Card spot in the east before being handily dispatched by the Rangers dominate the schedule. Of course, the Flyers have the CSN curve working for them while NHL and NBC executives never met a game they couldn't somehow work Sidney Crosby in to, so both are totally not surprising.
Washington is the last CSN team and the one with the most reasonable broadcast schedule - with a marketable star like Alex Ovechkin and some recent playoff success, they are exactly the type of team to pitch to a national audience. Same for the Rangers led by Henrik Lundqvist.
For all the fun I've had poking at the schedule makers here, there's a few serious points to be made here.
The first is that the NHL has a reputation for favoritism, even nepotism. After all, this is a league that allowed the trade of an essentially retired player (working for the league office no less despite the fact that his contract was still active) the same month he was announced as a Hall of Fame honoree. The way they design national schedules only reinforces the notion that there are likely favored teams, or at least owners.
The second is that while it's certainly not the world's biggest deal, national exposure does play a large role in how a player is viewed by the national media (and ultimately what type of award and career recognition he receives). When Dave Strader was hired by the Stars, he mentioned in several interviews that the 2014-15 season was the first time he went to Calgary since 2011. It's no wonder it seems like the only names NBC knows sometimes are Toews, Kane, Giroux, Crosby and Malkin - those are the only player their commenters see with any consistency, and there's no way to escape things like recency bias.
It's little in the grand scheme of things, obviously. The teams that play more national games don't get more points for each win.
But some of the trends are so silly that they deserve a little scorn on their own merit, especially headed into the dog days of August.