The NHL has long had a troubled relationship with American television. Surely, if you've read a media site over the past decade you've seen it chronicled. From decades without network exposure, to the SportsChannel America failure, to Fox and the glow pucks, to the Disney Monopoly. OLN got in there at some point. It's been checkered in the past, for sure.
Nowadays, however, you'd be hard pressed to argue against the notion that the NHL is in its golden age of American television coverage. NBC and their corporate cousins value it both as a property and in terms of rights fees, the league has long-term stability with the network's contract, and the Peacock hasn't been afraid to give the sport big time exposure, something that will continue into 2013-14.
Last season, partially due to the lockout, the league eeked its way into primetime on three consecutive Saturdays for non-Stanley Cup Final action. Sure, all three games featured huge markets (Chicago-Detroit, Boston-Pittsburgh, Los Angeles-Chicago) but they still made it onto primetime television and made a dent in the ratings, at least relative to the death slot that is Saturday nights.
This season, the league and the network are going further. NBC announced on Thursday that they will present one of the league's numerous outdoor games in 2013-14 in primetime on broadcast television. The game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks will take place at Soldier Field and air Saturday, Mar. 1 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.
It's a historic broadcast for the sport. While the league got a primetime Saturday bid with Capitals-Penguins in January of 2011, that was due to a rain delay and a rescheduling. This Penguins-Blackhawks game will be the first scheduled network primetime broadcast since January 4, 1974. That night, NBC kicked off their NHL coverage with a Bruins-Rangers broadcast. 40 years later, the league returns to primetime.
For the NHL, this is a huge get. While NBCSN (the game's original TV home) would have likely set a ratings record for regular season NHL coverage, NBC ups the ante. This game will be coming the Saturday following the Olympic Gold Medal Game, and Pittsburgh and Chicago could conceivably have a dozen Olympians between them. It's the exact sort of thing you want to see NBC doing to help the league, and they're following through.
Not hurting things: this game will take place the night before NBC's hockey holiday creation of Hockey Day in America, which will feature a tripleheader between NBC and NBCSN on Sunday, Mar. 2. Laugh all you want, but American hockey fans have never had it this good.