Sunday, January 24, 2021

NBC’s Stanley Cup Finals Strategy is Dumb

The Stanley Cup Finals are now in the books and the Washington Capitals finally got their hands on Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time in franchise history, defeating the surprise package Las Vegas Golden Knights in five games.  The ratings for these games were all up over their corresponding game from last year so in one sense this is a big win for NBC.

But despite the games all being up from the previous Stanley Cup Finals, NBC’s strategy in regards to what station to air these games on ended up costing them what could have been so much more.  NBC’s decision to put two of the five games on NBC Sports instead of regular, over the air NBC, is dumb.

Stanley Cup channel swapping is silly

When it comes to TV ratings, it’s a total viewership kind of game.  The number of people that you can get to watch your product on your channel is the most important thing.  The NBA has it figured out (though they have a whole host of other issues): every single NBA Finals game airs on ABC.  This is good for two reasons.  First, ABC is an over the air station so it is available in many more homes across the country than ESPN or ESPN2.

Second, it also helps that nobody has to try to remember what station the game is on.  It’s the NBA Finals, it’s going to be on ABC.  No two ways about.  But the NHL and NBC can’t figure that out for some reason.  It would make all the sense in the world for every single game of the Stanley Cup Finals to air on NBC for the same reason it makes sense for the NBA to put all of their finals games on ABC: it’s available in more homes and you don’t have to think about where the game is.

But, for some reason NBC and the NHL decide to put at least two games on NBCSN every year and it’s so appallingly stupid.  The theory behind it is that it while it may hurt overall viewership it helps the viewership for NBCSN programming.  That may certainly be the case but as we discussed earlier, TV viewership is a total sum game and to willingly knock viewership down roughly 2 million viewers per game is sheer insanity.  Let’s look at the numbers from the series between the Caps and the Knights.


2018 Stanley Cup Finals

Game 1 – NBC – 5,200,000

Game 2 – NBCSN – 3,648,000

Game 3 – NBCSN – 3,439,000

Game 4 – NBC – 5,100,000

Game 5 – NBC – 6,600,000


And for comparison here are the numbers from last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.


2017 Stanley Cup Finals

Game 1 – NBC – 4,900,000

Game 2 – NBCSN – 3,200,000

Game 3 – NBCSN – 3,000,000

Game 4 – NBC – 5,700,000

Game 5 – NBC – 4,400,000

Game 6 – NBC – 7,000,000


What do these numbers show?  They show that the games that air on NBC consistently put up better numbers than the games that air on NBCSN.  In 2018, every NBC game outdrew every NBCSN game which was also the case in 2017.  So why does the NHL and NBC continue to put Stanley Cup Finals games on a station that draws a smaller viewing audience every single time?

An excellent question.  But the fact remains that when games air on NBC, the viewing audience is larger by roughly 2 million more viewers.  So this year and last year NBC basically just threw away an extra 4 million viewers for no apparent reason.  It’s a dumb strategy that’s bad for the league, it’s bad for the network and it’s bad for the fans.  Let’s hope this is something they decide to change in the future.

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