After an NHL season that saw the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs rank as the second most-watched NHL post-season since NBC and NBCSN began exclusive coverage in 2006, and a regular season that set a full-season viewership record for NBCSN, the NHL is officially back tonight. Bolstered by an intensive new deal with Rogers in Canada, the league takes the ice this evening with Flyers/Bruins at 7:30p and Sharks/Kings at 10p on NBCSN. Meanwhile, Canada’s TSN will showcase Canadians/Maple Leafs at 7p, followed by Canucks/Flames at 10p.
Cynopsis Sports chatted with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman about the sport’s steady climb, the role of media, expansion and the World Cup.
Bettman on the growth of the NHL: I think it all starts with the game. It starts with being balanced, unpredictable and – most importantly – entertaining. What you see taking place on the ice, makes everything we do off the ice a whole lot easier. The tools start with having a system that created competitive balance. We are also engaging the fans with big events, as you saw last year with six outdoor games and the various other events we put on to give our fans new and interesting ways to connect with the game.
Obviously, our broadcast relationships both in Canada and the US have been vital. I think our deal with NBC has been transformational because, among other things, of their creation of Wednesday Night Rivalry Night and the fact that every game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has been available nationally, which give it an incredible big event feel. I believe that social media has had a big impact because our fans are the most tech-savvy in all of sports. When you package that together around a game that’s never been better, you get very strong, positive results.
On the new Canadian TV deal with Rogers: We believed in the vision that Rogers has in the game. They are going to distribute NHL content on every conceivable platform. They are going to be innovative when it comes to technology and they are going to give fans in Canada an experience that is evolutionary from everything that they’ve been used to. Audiences who are long-time fans of the game are going to get what they want, and they are going to get more things that they never envisioned, whether it is hometown hockey or new camera angles. They are going to be very creative with a profound respect and understanding of the game. I’ve been in their new studio, it is not to be believed. It is probably the most elaborate sports studio, if not in North America, than the world. They are investing in us in ways that no broadcast partners in Canada have before.
On building revenues: We are looking at more of everything. One is more use of social media for our fans to connect. International is something else we think is something that is important to our game. We, more than any other North American sport, have a long history of international competition. Our players have a history and a strong desire to represent their countries. 25% of our players come from outside of North America and are some of the best players in the world. So what we can do to continue to encourage player development and continue to serve millions of hockey fans throughout the world is going to be important. Obviously there is going to be a lot of speculation about bringing back the World Cup and that’s something we are working on the Players Association. After we get that in place, I see more exhibition games, more regular season games and more ways for us to have a continuous and regular presence outside of North America without diminishing for a minute what we are doing here.
On the World Cup of Hockey: To put on a major tournament is never easy, but it’s something that we know how to do. The advantages are that we control it. We get to use what comes out of it and we get to set it at the time of year that we think makes the most sense for our game.
On expansion: There’s lots of interest and we are listening to those expressions of interest from lots of places. But at the present time, we are not prepared to embark on a formal expansion process.
On sponsors: Our approach with sponsors is to make sure they see that working with us is a value proposition that enhances their brand. We have affluent, well-educated, tech-savvy fans, the best in all of those categories in all sports. Our profile, coupled with strong, well-respected brands is a mutually beneficial proposition and we want to work with sponsors who have the same view and want to touch their customers in the same way that we want to touch our fans and that’s in very position, uplifting ways.