NBC Cooks Up Black Friday NHL Showcase

Net hypes post-Turkey Day game with parade float, Cee Lo

NBC is pulling out all the stops in support of its inaugural NHL Black Friday broadcast, promoting the game during its coverage of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and enlisting the support of its biggest on-air talent.

Set to air on Friday, Nov. 25, the first-annual Discover Thanksgiving Showdown will mark the earliest national NHL broadcast in more than 20 years. The defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins host the Detroit Red Wings in an Original Six matchup that NBC hopes will become a post-Turkey Day tradition.

Along with a steady stream of 30-second spots driving hockey fans to the Black Friday showdown, NBC is going all out with the synergies. A new "Frozen Fall Fun" float will bow during Thursday’s Macy’s parade, and in addition to the hockey/holiday mashup theme—an overstuffed wooden turkey will serve as the goalie—musician Cee Lo Green, one of the four hosts of NBC’s The Voice, will perform live from the deck of the float.

Season 2 of The Voice premieres Sunday, Feb. 5, in the plum post-Super Bowl slot.

Co-branded by Discover and the NHL, the 36-foot-long float will also feature a synthetic ice rink. Last year, some 22.1 million viewers watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC.

Earlier this month, Discover Financial Services re-upped its sponsorship agreement with the NHL, signing a five-year deal that will make it the official credit card of the league through 2016. While financial terms were not disclosed, the initial deal was for one year and was estimated at $5 million.

In keeping with the renewal, Discover has launched two new ads featuring “Peggy,” a Balkan Zach Galifianakis type who stymies the likes of Bobby Bowden and Lou Holtz with “her” brand of inept and exasperating customer service. (Peggy toils for the fictitious USA Prime Credit Company, from what appears to be some sort of godforsaken Siberian outpost.)

In one new Discover spot, Chicago Blackhawks center Patrick Kane calls Peggy after a hotel refuses to accept his credit card. The second ad finds Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas unable to pay his cab fare. In each case, Peggy is genially useless, underscoring Discover’s superior customer service.

Meanwhile, NBC has begun running dedicated spots for the Black Friday game, including one in which a group of chore-shirking guys mobilize in front of the tube to watch the Red Wings-Bruins game. While the menfolk are under the impression their wives have hit the malls, the women turn out to be seated rinkside at Boston’s TD Garden.

As the game airs on a day bereft of any other high-profile sports broadcasts, NBC is betting that the Black Friday brawl will draw a crowd. Already, the post-tryptophan game has become a tradition of sorts in Boston—the Bruins have hosted a Black Friday matchup every year since 1990.

The NHL will leverage Friday’s game as a means to promote the fifth annual Bridgestone Winter Classic (Jan. 2, 2012). For its part, look for NBC to remind viewers of its plans for Super Bowl XLVI (Feb. 5) and the 2012 Summer Olympics.

In April, NBC signed a 10-year, $2 billion rights deal with the NHL. The partnership was finalized in the run-up to one of the most memorable NHL postseason periods in history. Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals delivered the biggest NHL audience in nearly 40 years, averaging 8.54 million viewers. The Bruins on June 15 defeated the Vancouver Canucks by a 4-0 margin, becoming the champions of the NHL for the first time since 1972.

While last season was a blockbuster for the NHL, pro hockey remains something of a niche offering when compared to other top-tier sports. For example, Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals drew 23.9 million viewers on ABC, or slightly less than three times what NBC averaged with its deciding Stanley Cup broadcast.

Naturally, pricing is a function of ratings prowess. In 2010, a 30-second spot in the NBA Finals cost approximately $402,000, per Kantar Media, or around four times what NBC commanded with that year’s Stanley Cup broadcasts.

In the near term, the NHL doesn’t have to worry about any pro hoops competition. The NBA lockout already seems to have given hockey a shot in the arm; per Nielsen, the season-opening Bruins-Philadelphia Flyers broadcast on Versus drew a record 874,000 viewers. Moreover, ticket sales have been particularly robust. Despite the listless economy, more than 90 percent of NHL season ticket holders renewed their seats this season, a 3 percent increase versus the year-ago period.