There are two great reasons to change next year's NHL schedule. First is to capitalize on the growing nature of Hockey in the United States as expressed in TV ratings. And second is to increase team revenues in an otherwise down-turning economy. That said, only a minor adjustment needs to be made...
Capitalizing on the television impact of Hockey in Canada is difficult to do as it is already the National Sport and often times draws upwards of 1/3 of all TV ratings for an event such as the IIHF finals. The issue is growing Hockey followings across the United States which has been more difficult due to competition with the NFL, MLB and the NBA. Strong inroads, however, are being made down south as evidenced by the Winter Classic draw on 1 January this year and the Versus viewing share - it's highest ever for a single game - of more than 377,000 households for the Boston-San Jose game this past Tuesday night. The spectacle of the game from Wriggly field and the 'potential preview of the Stanley Cup finals' is capturing an audience. And in this regard, the audience only needs to see a good competition between two Hockey teams to keep coming back for more.
The teams need a more solid revenue base from television to help them keep a good product on the ice. Less money available for tickets means less attendance where most of the money is made. It is a great time to sell the game to the major networkS in America. That means ABC, NBC AND CBS if contracts allow and they will pick up games because the numbers are beginning to show it is worth the networks' effort. Pay-per-view for those who do not have the Center Ice/Center Ice Online package is another potential source of revenue for teams that should not be overlooked. And again, there only needs to be a good competition between competitive teams to keep them coming back for more.
The NHL has already said it will not go to an 84-game schedule. Short of a reversal where every team would get every other team in their building at least once a season at the expense of more Inter-Conference and Intra-Divisional play, let's assume there is no change to the scheduling format.
If that is so, the one tweak to offer at this point is to adjust the Intra-Divisional, eight-game schedule:
1. Play four games against each Intra-Divisional rival in each half of the season.
2. Retain one of those games to schedule anywhere on the calendar that half in order to maintain scheduling flexibility.
3. Ensure early in the first half, and at the end of the second half of the season that three games per Intra-Divisional rival are played as a back-to-back-to-back series over a one-week period, similar to the 'old days' where the first series in the Stanley Cup Finals was a best-of-three matchup.
What does this small tweak do? Firstly, it gives every team a 'challenge week' for lack of a better term. Detroit would be billing it as their 'Blackhawk Week' just as the opposite was being done in Chicago. Secondly, and maybe most important in raising the Butts-To-Seat (BTS) ratio in the arenas, the second-half pairings give every team a playoff-like atmosphere which cannot help but increase excitement for the Great Game. Why wouldn't NBC, Versus or any other network NOT want to vie to carry all three of a Detroit-Chicago, Philadelphia-Pittsburgh, or Dallas-San Jose series? (Think of the ratings in Canada for Edmonton-Calgary, Montreal-Toronto, etc!) Perhaps the 'Three-Gamers' would be just enough to draw more television audience, sponsorship and team payout from down south to help our favorite game outpace the other, major sports in America.
The next Board of Governor's meeting is coming up and I for one respectfully submit this should be on the agenda...
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