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On ESPN, Frozen Frenzy, the NHL Draft, and how TV makes the world go round
Some thoughts on NHL business related things on a Thursday.
At it’s core the NHL isn’t a hockey league, it’s a business.
That’s an important thing to remember.
A league is a social construct, it’s organized exercise and competition.
The NHL, and other professional sports leagues, are organized exercise and competition amongst some of the best athletes in the world. We happen to care who wins because we want to see the best of the best at something, and we’ve bought into greater business complex of the thing.
Whether it’s the right or wrong decision, many times the NHL’s choice on something can be boiled back to business implications rather than the hockey ones. I’m not defending this, in fact there are some big misses on the business front, but if you can remember the driving force is money, not hockey, then things become more clear.
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This brings us to the television deal with ESPN, one of the NHL’s largest financial partners, and how it shaped a couple events on the NHL calendar this week.
On Tuesday, all 32 teams played in an event that was dubbed “Frozen Frenzy” with games having staggered start times and whip-around coverage of all the games on ESPN2.
Those start times were all adjusted to better fit ESPN’s schedule, and the ESPN brass were pretty happy with the numbers. This is from ESPN PR:
I wasn’t able to watch the broadcast portion of Frozen Frenzy live, I was at the Red Wings-Kraken game that evening, but watched back some of the replay and I asked readers at Shap Shots to give some reviews of the setup.
Here are some of their thoughts, with my commentary/clarifications where needed:
Tiffany VilchisParks Definitely liked the coverage. A little silly with the chicken parm but hockey was solid IMO.
This was an overarching theme I noticed with both readers here and talking to others.
ESPN had John Buccigross and Kevin Weekes in studio for Frozen Frenzy, which was a fine fit for both. Buccigross has his schticks, which at least play better in studio than when he is doing play-by-play.
James R Curry Was there something different from normal? I literally watched the Stars game and then switched off hockey for an episode of Taskmaster. 🤷♂️ I didn't know there was anything special on a different channel. Thought it was "All 32 teams play tonight" which happens once or twice a season anyway.
So James is the fan that the NHL is actually trying to target with Frozen Frenzy and other activations this season.
One of the NHL’s problems is how tribal it is when it comes to fandom.
Many fans are fans of their team, but they aren’t actually fans of the overall NHL. What I mean by this, is most fans only watch their team and that’s it. If their respective team isn’t playing, they aren’t going to tune in. It’s one of the reasons Original Six teams still hold so much draw for national TV partner, they draw more people in that would otherwise just be watching the game on an RSN.
The NHL’s internal drive this season is to turn more team fans into overall hockey fans, which in theory would lead to larger return on ratings for national games and in the playoffs.
One of the ideas the NHL was sold on about Frozen Frenzy was getting people, like James, to watch more than just their team and potentially get the bug to watch more national games.
Adam W. I thought it was awesome, Sean but it was very much built for me as I took a vacation day so I could be there for the first puck drop and their as the last horn sounded. I watched my two teams (Capitals and the Stars) via TV and tablet and then focused on the other games. (So I didn't see any of the Frozen Frenzy broadcast during that overlap.) I hope it becomes more of a thing... there needn't be 16 games going as the normal 13 games we see some nights would work just fine. It's all about the staggered start times. Admittedly, some improvements on some of the start times are likely needed.
Adam brings up the most important point here… you don’t need a 16-game slate to do this. You could do this most Tuesdays and Thursdays on ESPN2, just stagger a couple start times to you avoid cross-over intermissions, and you have a whip-around hockey show that becomes appointment viewing each week.
Back at my house my 5-year-old daughter stayed up and watched hockey with my wife. They never had to worry about commercials, and for a kid, it was a great entry point to different teams and such.
Overall, I liked the Frozen Frenzy, I don’t like some of the start times. Detroit-Seattle having an 8:23 ET puck drop made it more difficult for families to attend games, but overall I hope the NHL and ESPN realize they have a foundation here for something that can be a regular feature even when all 32 teams aren’t playing in one night.
The other thing television shaped is the NHL’s decision to decentralize the draft, which will go into effect in either 2024 or 2025.
It makes sense for NHL teams, decentralizing the draft allows team war rooms to be kept private and it is less travel for everyone involve. From a marketing standpoint, it’s also the best of both worlds because NHL teams can now have draft events at home, and like the NFL, a top-pick could be flown to that city for Day 2 of the event.
All of that being said, the NHL’s decision here doesn’t happen without television partners pushing and wanting a better TV product, particularly ESPN, which airs the draft in the United States.
The NHL Draft, after the spanning shot of the draft floor, is clunky on television. Many of the elements that make it a great-in-person event, make it rough to view on TV.
By moving to far-flung war rooms, like the NFL, and a draft stage with prospects, the broadcast becomes smoother and more connected, it also gives more control to the TV partner — which the league will gladly concede, as evidenced by the Frozen Frenzy schedule we discussed before.
It makes for better TV and sports are a business, this was always going to happen.
Editor’s Note: We typically do some sort of Stars piece on Thursday, but with Dallas playing tonight and recent NHL news/events I made the executive decision to switch things up on the schedule for this week.
There should be something Stars related here at Shap Shots tomorrow. We will also be back to the traditional mailbag/funbag setup next Friday.
Also let me know your thoughts on any of this by either leaving a comment or responding via email to a newsletter. Thanks for reading!