Where’s the hockey game on?

Many fans living outside the local market of their favorite teams continue to ask that same question during weeknight games. Overtime playoff hockey, perhaps the most exciting part of sports, a concept the NHL should market like crazy in the US. Yet domestic viewers without the NHL PPV package missed out on the exciting overtime Game One in the Philadelphia-Montreal series last week, won by the Canadiens 4-3.

Hockey boggles the mind sometimes. Ratings go up, attendance goes up, fan interest has gained some momentum in the US, then the league makes it difficult to watch playoff games, exactly when content should be most accessible and marketable. Versus owns exclusive rights to two games per series. The NHL should avoid scheduling multiple games during the exclusive window, either stagger the start times, or use the other nights for double headers. Ratings on Versus for the first round increased from .3 to .4, NBC ratings climbed over the 1 threshold this weekend. Newly redesigned NHL.tv, featuring the NHL Online Network, garnered a 75% traffic increase since debuting before the playoffs.

Now is the time for the NHL to strike while the iron is out. The league needs to find a way to get on ESPN, or have NBC distribute weeknight games on one its cable outlets. Make the games accessible, and market the stories. Where the NBA excels with its memorable campaigns – this year the transposed faces of superstar players combined with the Where Amazing Happens moniker – the NHL fails to develop a presence. Playoff hockey is a great product, they need to reach the fans now while they have their attention. Make the games accessible, even if its streaming the games online, which comes with the ancillary benefit of drawing the international audience opening the door for new advertising and sponsorship deals, and market, market, market.

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