The postseason is about to begin for the St. Louis Blues. It’s normally a time of great anticipation and joy mixed with butterflies. However, instead of talking about the game, there’s a lot of focus on the time of the game.
The NHL is apparently wanting to emulate the NCAA basketball tournament with it’s scheduling. They have several games starting at different times on a staggered schedule.
While it works for college basketball on many levels, to me it doesn’t make sense for hockey. One of the points of staggered starts for college basketball is simply because you’ve got multiple games going on at one venue.
That won’t be the case for hockey. There is one game per building, per night.
Now I’m not foolish. I’m not going to say the NCAA doesn’t have television ratings in mind when they stagger their game times. The first two to four days of the college tournament are always some of the most exciting and highly watched.
The NHL is obviously going for a similar effect. All games will be shown on the NBC family of networks for American audiences, while Rogers SportsNet and CBC will carry games in Canada. So with all games on netowkrs basically centrally owned, the idea is to get crossover audiences.
The problem is hockey isn’t basketball. Sure, hockey fans like you or I will likely flip channels once our own team is done (especially if our team won and we’re riding a high and want to see more). The casual fan though isn’t likely to flip.
This is especially true in the first round. If you live in the market of your team, many of the first round games are on regional television anyway. People won’t even think to switch to an NBC network if they’re watching a game on their regional Fox Sports network.
Even more, the fans actually going to the games take the brunt of this schedule change. While some of the east coast teams won’t notice any change, the rest of the playoff teams have their schedules all thrown out of whack.
The St. Louis Blues, for example, are guaranteed to play two games at 8:30 p.m. CST (one at home and one in Chicago). That’s an hour to 90 minutes different from what they players and fans are used to.
Even in St. Louis, where traffic isn’t as much of an issue (though it could be with the Cardinals in town), fans won’t get home until midnight or later.
Just imagine the late nights for fans in other cities. Places like Chicago or New York, which has some 8 p.m. EST games, or Los Angeles have a ton of traffic. Those fans might not get home until 1 a.m. or later and that’s not even taking potential overtime into account.
Hockey fans are some of the most loyal in the world. The numbers that showed up post-lockout/strike years prove that. They don’t deserve to be jerked around like this just for a potential higher television rating or a spike in viewers for half an hour.
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Games should be at normal times, honestly. Most of the viewers watching any one game are likely interested only in one of the two teams playing anyway. So who cares if there are two games going on simultaneously? If a Blues fan wanted to catch the west coast game after their own game, that’s fine but making them play at 8:30 isn’t that justifiable.
If the NHL wants to stagger it’s games, then do it in half hour intervals. There’s no need to have a 90 minute gap between start times when time zones factor in.
Start your eastern games at 7 locally and then the next at 7:30 so that central games can start at 7 or 7:30 in their own time zone. If a game goes smoothly, then you would get those viewers switching to the other games during intermissions.
With the advent of online outlets, this strange staggered scheduling seems even more confusing. If you’re in it for ratings, the people that watch multiple games are just as likely to watch one game on TV and another on their mobile device if they’re all starting at 7 as they are if they start at different times.
I’m sure there has been some sort of analytical research into people’s viewing habits and this made the most sense to someone. However, to the fans trying to watch or attend these games without disrupting their work schedules or sleep habits it’s nothing but trouble.
As much as we love the NHL, it’s not the NCAA. People who don’t even have a team tune into those first fiew days of the tournament. Hockey is mostly watched by hockey fans.
The NHL doesn’t seem to be catering to it’s fans in this instance. They need to return to normal starting times for their playoff games.