St. Louis Blues 2021 Season Determined By Television

AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 11: NBC Olympics CMO John Miller attends the exclusive Olympic Panel Discussion and Happy Hour at the NBC Sports Lawn at SXSW on March 11, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Roger Kisby/Getty Images for NBC Sports)
AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 11: NBC Olympics CMO John Miller attends the exclusive Olympic Panel Discussion and Happy Hour at the NBC Sports Lawn at SXSW on March 11, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Roger Kisby/Getty Images for NBC Sports) /

The St. Louis Blues don’t know when their 2020-21 season will start or how many games there will be. They do have a pretty clear picture of when it has to end.

St. Louis Blues fans have a love/hate relationship when it comes to their television coverage. While local partner Fox Sports Midwest does a fine job with some of the best non-national talents around, the rest leaves something to be desired.

There is a feeling of biased coverage, which can range anything from a play-by-play announcer not sounding as excited for the Blues scoring as the other team to purposeful mispronouncing of names by Pierre McGuire. There is usually a constant barrage of late games the Blues deal with anytime they play a west-coast team.

These things make sense in the middle of a conference room with a marketing team explaining how much the east coast means to ratings. They don’t make as much sense to your everyday fan.

Yet, we have long known that television drives the bus when it comes to American (and Canadian) sports. Just the discussion of time slots alone is enough evidence of that.

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However, if you had any doubts, look no further than the discussions around the 2020-21 NHL season. Nobody can tell you when it will start or how many games. They have almost a concrete certainty about when the season has to end.

I’ve heard the discussion raised by some, including YouTube’s The Hockey Guy. I just did not know it was so definite until I saw it in print in Jim Thomas’ Post-Dispatch article.

The NHL basically has to end their season by July 23, 2021. The reason is because, unless things change as they seem to do on a daily basis, that is when NBC’s coverage of the Summer Olympics begin.

I don’t fault NBC for this decision. While not every person loves the Olympics, as far as ratings go, it’s still a big eye grabber. It might not make sense to hockey fans, but primetime Olympic coverage will likely draw more people across the country than a hockey game.

Still, coming from the Blues and the hockey perspective, it’s hard not to feel like a slap in the face. One of North America’s top four leagues is having an entire season dictated by a television network.

In a vacuum, the NHL could just wait until they could play 82 games. It might take a year or two to get the calendar back on a normal time frame, but you’d be maximizing revenue with more games on TV, more ad dollars and more fans in the stands – assuming people can attend, of course.

Instead, the availability of fans in arenas is not the only consideration for shortening a season. The NHL can come off as a cold, calculating league, but they are not going to force their players into a condensed 82-game season and playoffs if they cannot hit their January 1 start.

You’d basically kill your players if you have to start in February, play a full season and crown a champion by July. Cramming a full season in even if you do start by January 1 will be enough of a sprint.

But, with that July 23 start for the Olympics, the NHL has to make decisions based on that. They can only delay their start so long without making major considerations about how many games they can cut off a schedule.

One could argue that in the streaming age, it should not matter. You could put Olympic events on the NBC Sports App or their ancillary channels like USA or CNBC.

The problem there is they won’t. They already put Olympic events on almost all their channels during the first few days of the Olympics, since that’s when everything is going on, whether it be preliminary races or medal qualifying games/heats.

If anything, the NHL would get regulated to the streaming portion of things. Those of us accustomed to streaming would be fine, but there are plenty of people out there that either don’t know how to stream or lack the capability. Not every television is a smart-TV and not everyone has a Chromecast or other device. Even with dwindling numbers using those services, you’d lose out on plenty of fans that still have cable or dish.

So, the NHL kind of has the walls closing in from both sides. January still feels like it’s not close, but when that date gets closer and you don’t really have the option of just sliding the season back in the calendar, choices will have to be made.

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Personally, I think the Blues and the NHL just need to start and let those that want to come attend. I’m not in charge though, and there will be some glad of that and some on that same side. The problem is none of us get to decide and even the league has its hands tied in much of this decision making.