While the Winter Olympics has put the NHL’s 2013-14 campaign on ice for the next two weeks, the league’s in-house cable network hasn’t exactly been idle. In fact, beginning Feb. 12, NHL Network will begin production on a special live highlights show that will run immediately following the Latvia-Switzerland telecast on MSNBC.
NHL Tonight: 2014 Sochi Edition will debut tomorrow at 3 p.m. EST, shortly after the two Group C teams conclude their opening game. NHL Net has landed McDonald’s as the presenting sponsor of the half-hour show, which is designed to complement NBCUniversal’s coverage of the men’s hockey tournament.
NHL Net’s Kathryn Tappen will host the live show from Sochi, while her regular NHL Tonight co-hosts E.J. Hradek and Mark Roe and analysts Mike Johnson, Jamie McLennan and Kevin Weekes will pitch in from the channel’s Toronto studios.
The live show will run through the end of the gold medal round on Feb. 23. All told, NHL Net is prepping 10 days of live studio coverage; there are no men’s hockey games scheduled for Feb. 17 and 20.
Repeats of the special Olympics version of the NHL Tonight show will run each night at 8 p.m. EST.
Bob Chesterman, svp of programming, NHL Network, said that the Sochi edition of NHL Tonight will offer hard-core hockey fans much more comprehensive analysis of the day’s international matchups. “While NBC and the CBC’s coverage is more dependent on the human interest angle, we can really do a deeper dive,” Chesterman said, adding that NHL Net will enhance its highlights package with on-site post-game interviews with players.
Naturally, there is heightened interest in the U.S. squad, which returns 13 starters from the 2010 team that came up just one goal short against Canada in the gold medal game. This year’s roster may be the best the U.S. has put together since the 2002 club that won silver in Salt Lake City.
The U.S. has not won the gold since 1980, when it capped its “Miracle on Ice” upset of the Soviets with a 4-2 victory over Finland.
Chesterman acknowledged that a rematch of the Vancouver final would present the best-case scenario for post-Olympic stateside NHL viewing. “You would like the U.S. and Canada to make the medal rounds, for sure,” he said. “Other federations feature great NHL talent, but it would be wrong for me to say that a U.S.-Canada final wouldn’t help pique interest.”
This may be the last time we see NHL players take the ice in a Winter Olympics environment. The league has not made a commitment to the games beyond Sochi, and while the players obviously cherish the opportunity to represent their home countries, some franchise owners have been vocal about the deleterious impact the 16-day layoff has on NHL attendance.
Philadelphia Flyers chairman Ed Snider, for example, recently told reporters that “there is no benefit” to allowing NHL players to compete in the Olympics. Snider also characterized the practice of interrupting the season for three weeks every four years as “ridiculous.”
Snider may have a point. While some 27.6 million Americans watched Canada’s 3-2 overtime win in 2010, NHL games did not see much of (if any) a bump once regular-season play resumed. In fact, NBCSN precursor Versus actually saw its NHL ratings drop upon its resumption of in-season games.
Currently in some 43.9 million households, NHL Network does not make guarantees to advertisers based on Nielsen ratings. Per SNL Kagan, the channel commands an average affiliate rate of 29 cents per subscriber per month, which accounts for an annual haul of $152.8 million in carriage fees.