NHL Experiences Growth in Non-Traditional Markets, Seeks Growth in China

NHL

NBC Sports has decided to add NHL regular season games to its programming schedule. Between NBC and NBCSN, they’ll carry 109 regular-season games during 2018-2019 season (which got underway Wednesday evening), the most in any single season since the company acquired league broadcast rights back in 2005-2006. As part of the expanded coverage, the peacock network’s sports division will introduce “Wednesday Night Hockey” (on NBCSN); featuring earlier start times (7p or 7:30p EST) and a record 17 broadcast double-headers. 13 games, including the league’s marquee events (see: All-Star Game, Winter Classic, Stadium Series), will air on the NBC broadcast network; the January ’19 NHL All-Star game will mark the first time the annual showcase has been carried live on broadcast television since ’97.

Howie Long-Short: NBC Sports (CMCSA) executive producer and president of production Sam Flood said it was viewership growth in “non-traditional NHL markets” and the “emergence of a number of rising stars” that drove the company to expand its programming schedule. By starting games earlier and carrying 17 double-headers, they’re able to air more games involving teams from the Western Conference; meaning more opportunities for fans to see emerging stars like Connor McDavid (Oilers), Patrik Laine (Jets) & Nathan MacKinnon (Avalanche).

If you’re not getting your hockey fill from NBC/NBCSN, NHL.tv (the league’s OTT subscription service) has added 50% more “local broadcast pre-game and post-game shows” plus “intermission shows”, in addition to 180 out-of-market league games; content drawn from team RSNs. Disney Streaming Services (operates NHL.tv) offers the service on a full-season, monthly and single team basis; unlike with NBA League Pass, fans do not have the option to purchase individual games or periods. It’s worth mentioning that in addition to NHL.tv, ESPN+, Disneyflix and BAM-Tech Media all fall under the Disney Streaming Services (DIS) umbrella.

NBC Sports is paying $2 billion (over 10 years) for the league’s exclusive media rights (through the ’21-’22 season). Last season, games that aired on NBC experienced a 4% YoY rise in viewership (to 1.34 million), but across all platforms (includes NBCSN & digital) the audience declined -12% (to 417K); NBCSN broadcasts really dragged the average down, averaging just 302,000 viewers/game.  Starting games earlier, showing a wider variety of teams and showcasing the league’s best players should help NBCSN post better ratings during the 2018-2019 season.

Fan Marino: While non-traditional hockey markets (think: San Jose, Las Vegas) have given a boost to viewership here in the U.S., the NHL appears to perceive China as the next horizon; in fact, the league played a few preseason games in the country (and will in 4 of next 6 seasons) in September and recently opened a youth hockey school in Shenzhen.

President Xi Jinping’s plan to have 300 million winter sports fans in the country by the start of the ‘22 Beijing Olympics has served as a catalyst for the league’s Asian growth efforts. Of course, the NHL isn’t participating in the ’18 Olympic Games and should they decide to pass on the ’22 Games, it could alienate the Chinese government and halt the league’s progress in the country. Commissioner Gary Bettman disputes that notion arguing that one tournament would not define the sports long-term growth prospects in China.

Speaking of non-traditional hockey markets, on Tuesday the NHL’s expansion committee recommended adding Seattle as the league’s 32nd franchise, the formal vote will occur in December. The David Bonderman/Jerry Bruckheimer ownership group hopes to play the club’s inaugural season at a redeveloped KeyArena in ’20-’21, but ’21-’22 may be more realistic with a player lockout pending in ‘20.

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Author: John Wall Street

At the intersection of sports & finance.

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