The National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup finals should be special. There shouldn’t be any games played consecutive days, and there shouldn’t be any games played on the same day as the NBA Finals.
But the NHL put itself in a bind with its finals schedule. You can blame NBC for the problem.
With Conan O’Brien taking over “The Tonight Show” from Jay Leno this week, the last thing NBC wanted to see happen was to have one of the games between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins go into overtime. With the games starting at 8 p.m., an overtime game would push back the start of the 11 p.m. news, and that would mean “The Tonight Show” wouldn’t start as scheduled at 11:35. NBC was probably afraid that “The Tonight Show” would lose viewers, and with a new host, the network didn’t want to take that chance.
That is why NBC televised the first two games last weekend, and Versus televised Games 3 and 4 this week. In the last few years, Versus televised the first two games, and NBC picked up the rest of the series. That was also the way it worked when ESPN and ABC had the rights.
But avoiding the chance of a late “The Tonight Show” brought about another problem. Thursday night, the Stanley Cup finals went up against Game 1 of the NBA
Finals, between the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers, on ABC. And it will happen again Tuesday, when Game 6 of the Cup finals, this time on NBC, goes up against Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
NBC and Versus will probably catch a break, ratings-wise. Although it won’t top the rating the Magic-Lakers will get going head-to-head, it could have been a whole lot worse. Had LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers made it to the Finals, the much-anticipated showdown with the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant would have blown the Cup finals away.
The NHL and media partners could have done more to avoid any conflicts with the NBA, and also prevent having the Penguins and Red Wings play on consecutive days. NBC could have televised Game 1 last Saturday, be off Sunday, and then have Versus broadcast Game 2 on Monday and Game 3 on Wednesday. NBC would resume coverage, starting with Game 4 tonight, Game 5 on Monday, Game 6 two days after that and then Game 7 either next Friday or Saturday.
The Cup finals have been good for NBC and Versus. Both networks are off to the best starts in seven years.
Games 1 and 2 on NBC averaged 4.87 million viewers, the best since 2002 (Detroit-Carolina, 5.35 million, Games 3 and 4, then on ABC), and 21 percent ahead of last year (4.04 million, Games 3 and 4, Wednesday and Saturday night).
The two-game 2.8 average rating and 5 share was up 17 percent over NBC’s first two games in 2008 (2.4/4), and was again the best network start for the Stanley Cup since 2002 (3.4/7). NBC’s Game 2 coverage was tied for sixth among all prime-time telecasts last week in adults 18-49.
Versus earned a 2.6 rating and averaged 2.96 million viewers for Tuesday’s game. The network said the rating was up 37 percent from the average for the two games on Versus during last year’s series. The channel aired Games 1 and 2 last year. This year, it is showing Games 3 and 4 while the first two games were on NBC.
The 2.6 rating was the highest ever on Versus, beating a 2.1 for Lance Armstrong’s final ride in 2005, and Game 5 of this year’s Detroit-Chicago series.
On the NBA front, the playoff ratings were good for ESPN and TNT.
Ratings for the Western Conference finals on ESPN increased 32 percent from the network’s conference finals coverage last year. The Eastern Conference finals on TNT were up 30 percent from its conference finals coverage in 2008.
For the entire playoffs, TNT’s ratings were up 19 percent from a year ago, while ESPN’s increased 12 percent.
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy and former All-Pro safety Rodney Harrison will join NBC’s “Football Night in America” studio show as analysts, the network announced Wednesday. Dungy and Harrison will replace Cris Collinsworth and Jerome Bettis. Collinsworth is replacing John Madden as the “Sunday Night Football” analyst, while Bettis didn’t have his contract renewed. . . .
St. Louis Blues president and former New York Rangers MSG analyst John Davidson has been named the recipient of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for outstanding contributions as a hockey broadcaster. . . .
The Belmont Stakes will be televised by ABC (WTEN Ch. 10 and WTEN HD) at 5:30 p.m. today. WTMM-FM (104.5) will have radio coverage starting at 5 p.m. ESPN and ESPN HD has the Belmont Stakes undercard at noon. . . .
NBC (WNYT Ch. 13 and WNYT HD) has the French Open finals this weekend. The women’s singles and men’s doubles finals are today at
9 p.m. The men’s singles final is at 9 a.m. Sunday. . . .
TNT starts its NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage Sunday at 2 p.m. with the Pocono 500.