Behind the Broadcast: All Stanley Cup games belong on NBC

The NHL is the only major sport league that doesn’t have every game of its championship round on an
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The NHL couldn’t have asked for a better Stanley Cup final.

The Chicago Blackhawks, representing the nation’s third-largest television market, facing the Phil­adelphia Flyers, which is in the No. 4 TV market.

The first two games of the series drew great ratings for NBC. But the series shifted to cable’s Versus for Games 3 and 4.

I have a suggestion for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. He should sit down with his United States television partners and tell them this: “Versus, you have done a great job covering our league since we came out of the 2004-05 lockout. You wanted to be the cable home of the NHL when ESPN kicked us to the curb.

“However, with our sport getting more and more popular, and with out Stanley Cup final ratings getting stronger each year, we need every game of the Cup final available to everyone in the U.S. Therefore, starting next season, NBC will have every game of the Cup final.”

The NHL is the only major sport league that doesn’t have every game of its championship round on an over-the-air network. Since the league returned to an over-the-air network in 1995 with Fox, the Cup finals have had at least two games on cable. In fact, from 1996-99, the Cup was won when ESPN televised the clinching game.

When ABC took over the over-the-air contract, ESPN got the first two games of the Cup finals, and then ABC had the rest of the series. After the lockout ended, Versus televised the first two games, with NBC televising the remaining games.

Last year, NBC got the first two games, with Versus getting Games 3 and 4 before NBC took over the rest of the way. That happened again this season. The risk you run is having a team sweep the series, and the Cup being presented on cable instead of before the wider audience that NBC offers.

NBC’s ratings for the first two games of the Blackhawks-Flyers series have been very good. Last Saturday’s Game 1 got a 2.8 rating and 6 share. It was the best rating for an opening game of the Cup final since 1999, when the Buffalo-Dallas series got a 3.7 on Fox.

Game 2 Monday did even better. It got a 4.1 rating and 7 share, posting a 21-percent increase over last year’s Game 2 (3.4) between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins.

The two-game average overnight rating for Games 1 and 2 is a 3.5, the best two-game average overnight rating for the first two games of a Stanley Cup final in 11 years (3.8 on Fox in 1999, Buffalo vs. Dallas), and up 17 percent over last year (3.0).

Versus did get a nice rating for Wednesday’s Game 3, earning a 3.1. It was the largest TV audience for the Stanley Cup finals on cable in eight years. The game averaged 3.6 million viewers. That was the most since Game 2 of the 2002

finals between Detroit and Carolina on ESPN. Game 3 was the highest-rated and most-watched telecast in Versus’ history.

That’s nice, but let’s remember that not everyone around the country gets Versus, or has cable. NBC is in more households.

So, if Bettman is smart, he will look to get all Cup finals games on NBC next season.

Sunday conflict

One other thing Bettman should do: avoid playing on the same night as the NBA Finals.

Sunday’s Game 5 of the Cup finals on NBC will go head-to-head with Game 2 of the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. Both games start at 8 p.m.

While I hope that a miracle will happen, I am realistic in believing that the NBA Finals will beat the Cup finals.

Game 5 of the Cup finals can be seen locally on WNYT (Ch. 13) and WNYT HD, while the NBA Finals will be on WTEN (Ch. 10) and WTEN HD.

Parting shots

WXXA (Ch. 23) will have a recap of the Freihofer’s Run for Women race tonight at 10:30 p.m. Fox 23 sports director Rich Becker will host. . . .

The final leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, is on at 5 p.m. today on ABC and ABC HD. With neither Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver nor Preakness Stakes champion Lookin At Lucky racing in the Belmont, there seems to be little reason to watch, unfortunately. ESPN and ESPN HD will have the Belmont Stakes undercard at noon. . . .

TNT and TNT HD begins its NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage with the Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 at 1 p.m. Sunday. . . .

CBS (WRGB Ch. 6 and WRGB HD) has the final two rounds of the PGA Memorial Tournament at 3 p.m. today and 1:30 p.m. Sunday. The Golf Channel and Golf Channel HD will precede CBS’ coverage at 12:30 p.m. today and 11 a.m. Sunday. . . .

NBC and NBC HD have the French Open finals this weekend at 9 a.m. The women’s final is today, with the men’s championship taking place Sunday. . . .

NBC will also have coverage of the Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship today and Sunday at 4 p.m. . . .

MLB Network and MLB Network HD will televise Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg’s major league debut Tuesday at 7 p.m. against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Strasburg was the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, and posted a 7-2 record in the minors this season. . . .

Speaking of the MLB draft, MLB Network televises the first round of the draft at 7 p.m. Monday.

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