Ivey: NHL needs to rethink playoff scheduling
Michael Ivey | Friday, April 27, 2018
If you are a die-hard hockey fan like I am, you have also probably been glued to your television watching the Stanley Cup playoffs for the past few weeks. So far we’ve been treated to some exciting games and series, including an unbelievable Game 7 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night that Boston won 7-4.
The NHL playoffs are always one of the most exciting yearly events in all of sports. My favorite part of the playoffs to watch is the first round. More teams means more hockey to watch. For the past few weeks, we’ve been treated to as many as four games a night, watching the 16-team field beat each other up to advance to the next round and get closer to winning the Stanley Cup.
With such drama, you would think the National Hockey League would want to schedule each game in a way that would get more people to watch each game.
However, the NHL seems incapable of making decisions that would be beneficial for the popularity and growth of the game, even with their most attractive product.
Throughout the first round of the playoffs, the nightly schedule was marred with start times that were jumbled right next to each other instead of spread out one after the other. This left hockey fans to decide which game to watch when and increased the likelihood of missing a highlight reel moment due to watching another game.
When looking at the NHL playoff schedule for a typical weeknight, it was not uncommon to see something along the lines of three games starting within 30 minutes of each other, which means there would be three games on at the same time. When this happens, the games get relegated to channels not known for broadcasting hockey, including CNBC and the Golf Channel. Yes, the Golf Channel.
Having as many as three games on at the same time may be attractive to some fans, but it doesn’t make any sense for the league in terms of trying to attract the most amount of viewers to the games on television. By making fans choose between games to watch, the NHL draws them away from the other games going on.
The ideal start times for weeknight playoff games is 7 p.m. EST, 8 p.m. EST, 9:30 p.m. EST and 10:30 p.m. EST. This way, the 9:30 p.m. game will start right after the 7 p.m. game ends, and the 10:30 p.m. game starts right after the 8 p.m. game.
This would create a more natural balance, with two games being played at the same time, and prevent three games from happening at once while only one game happens at night. It was also a viable option this season given the five West-Coast-based NHL teams in the playoff field.
Not only does this give the viewers options as to which games to watch without overwhelming them, it allows the viewer to watch playoff hockey games for a longer period of time.
The NBA has almost perfected this strategy, making sure their playoff games are presented in nationally televised double-headers.
During the first weekend of the NBA playoffs, the league made sure each Game 1 of the eight opening-round playoff series could be seen on national television, spreading out the games so that only one game could be on at a time and holding four games on Saturday and four on Sunday.
The NHL should seriously consider adopting this strategy, instead of the one they use to schedule weekend playoff games.
Last Saturday, the league had three playoff games scheduled. Instead of spreading them out, they had two start at the exact same time at 3 p.m. while the third was played at 8 p.m. Instead of watching one game after another, fans had to wait more than two hours to watch the night game after the first two ended almost at the exact same time.
Not only does idiotic scheduling like this hurt the league’s television ratings, it also damages the opportunity to grow the popularity of the game.
With the second round beginning this week, there will only be about two games on per night. You would think the NHL would want to televise a doubleheader and present each game one after another. Seems only logical, right?
The two games scheduled for this upcoming Tuesday are scheduled to start within 30 minutes of each other, at 7:30 and 8 p.m., even though it would only make sense to schedule them at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
But then again, this is the NHL we’re talking about. A lot of its decisions don’t make any sense.
The NHL is always looking for ways to increase its popularity, such as scheduling multiple outdoor games every year and playing games in Europe. But one strategy they should also consider is changing their peculiar playoff scheduling techniques in order to enhance the viewership of one of their most attractive draws, the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.