LOS ANGELES — Oh what a difference eight years and six Stanley Cup Championships makes.
On July 22, the National Hockey League and NBC Sports released their 2014-15 national television schedule, one that features at least one Western Conference team in 56 games of its 103-game schedule. It also offers 35 “West-friendly” games, that is, games played on weekends or that begin at 6:00 PM Pacific time or later on weekdays.
The schedule released by the NHL and NBC Sports states that the 2014 Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings will be on NBC or NBCSN twelve times, but lists 13 games with the Kings as one of the combatants. But looking at the schedule on a broader scale, the 2014-15 national television schedule is a huge improvement for the league compared just a handful of years ago when the West was treated as a forgotten stepchild.
It was not all that long ago when the NHL, NBC and VERSUS (which NBC purchased and renamed NBCSN) virtually ignored Western Conference viewers, especially those in the Pacific time zone. For example, in 2008-09, only two West-friendly games were televised on NBC and/or VERSUS. The rest of their scheduled games all had start times at or before 5:00 PM Pacific time on weekdays.
One year later, you would think things would improve, at least a little bit, right? Wrong. In fact, in 2009-10, again, there were just two West-friendly games on NBC and/or VERSUS/NBCSN.
For Kings fans, things could not have been worse, as they did not appear on VERSUS in 2008-09, and were on their air just once in 2009-10. They did not appear on NBC at all during that period.
Of course, you could replace “Kings” with the name of any of the bottom-dwelling teams back then, as they were all in pretty much the same boat.
As I wrote back then…
…much of this is because the Kings are very, very likely to be nowhere near competitive for a playoff spot this season. But a more influential factor is that the league caters to Eastern Time Zone cities at the expense of most Western Conference cities.
Of course, the NHL knows who butters their bread. The majority of its fans are located in Eastern Time Zone cities. But if you have ever looked at the national television schedule, it is so heavily weighted towards Eastern Time Zone audiences that, if you’re an avid hockey fan in the West, you cannot enjoy the vast majority of games televised by Versus since they are at least a third of the way through the game before you get home from a long day at work—you can never see a nationally televised game from the beginning unless you record it or get home early (see NHL: Only Two “West-Friendly” Games On National TV In 2008-09).
In the case of the Kings, at the time, they were on the opposite end of the spectrum from where they are today, having won the Stanley Cup twice in the last three seasons. Again, as I wrote back in August 2009, “Without question, the NHL is certainly not the only culprit here. After all, television networks do not want to televise teams that a national audience generally will not be interested in.”
But the league and NBC finally began to see the light after the 2010-11 campaign. The following season, 23 West-friendly games were broadcast on NBC/NBCSN. NBC/NBCSN took an even bigger step forward in 2011-12. airing 33 West-friendly games that season. Ignoring the lockout-abbreviated 2013 season, NBC/NBCSN once again aired 33 West-friendly games during the 2013-14 regular season.
As reported earlier, 35 games on the NBC/NBCSN schedule are West-friendly in 2014-15.
To be sure, the NHL must be given credit for making sure that the number of West-friendly games has increased dramatically since 2008-09. After all, that Western Conference teams have won the Stanley Cup six times in the last eight seasons is a fact that leaps right out at you. Despite that, one has to wonder how much of the West-friendly coverage is due to the rising strength of the Western Conference. Are the schedule-makers just going with who is hot/popular right now, or are league officials displaying real foresight and wisdom, showing that they understand the importance of growing the game out West?
Indeed, have they finally figured out that by televising Western Conference teams more often and by broadcasting games at times when fans, especially casual fans, in the Pacific and Mountain time zones can watch more than the third period of a game live they will attract a significant number of new fans in markets that have been mostly untapped, in terms of national television coverage?
Only time will tell, and given the NHL’s long, long history of bending over backwards for Eastern time zone fans while virtually ignoring everyone else, one can only hope and pray for a miracle—that they have seen the light.
In any case, those of us out West will have 35 regular season games to enjoy on NBC/NBCSN in the 2014-15 season. No longer are fans in the West the forgotten stepchildren, at least for the time being.
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