Sunday night was an enjoyable night in Vancouver as the highly-anticipated preliminary round hockey game between USA and Canada took the ice. For our neighbors to the north, they had circled this game as their measuring sticks for the Olympics. To beat the Americans would be the momentum swing that Canada needed.
Team USA out-hustled and dominated Canada to win 5-3, and to take the top seed in the medal round, which begins tomorrow.
The trending talk on Twitter is that “hockey is back”, “this is what hockey needs”, and “why in the hell didn’t NBC put this on their channel and stuck this on MSNBC?” Some have even compared Sunday night’s win since the “Miracle on Ice” game (USA vs. USSR), which is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary on this day (2/22/80) at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.
As the irreverent ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso would say, “not so fast, my friend!” This game is not and can not be compared to the Miracle on Ice team. The ’80 team was made up of college hockey players, not professional players from the NHL. The climate of the nation is vastly different. In 1980, the nation’s morale was in the pits, people were burning the U.S. flag. Let’s face it, things back then was bad. It’s not as bad today in 2010, but nevertheless, we do have our own problems to deal with.
To beat Canada for the first time since knocking them off to win the gold in 1960 is nothing short but stunning, given the long history of hockey here in North America. But these are different times and different conditions. Besides, this win won’t mean a damn thing unless USA runs the table in the medal round and win the whole thing. Even if they meet Canada or Russia.
Initially, I felt that NBC could have showed this game live on their network, and not on MSNBC or another of it’s family of smaller networks. As a realist, I understand why they did it. For those who are non-hockey fans who tuned it last night, it’s no secret that hockey is a “niche” sport. NASCAR, soccer, and other sports have bumped hockey off the budding perch of the most-watched sport in America.
To add, NBC’s prime time coverage is designed for viewers who are not hard-core sports fans (women, non-athletic men, to name a few). That’s a large number of “casual fans” who will tune in for the human interest pieces, figure skating, snowboarding, sports that you only see every 4 years. Hockey’s on every winter. MSNBC’s ratings were up last night, which was a boon to them. It scored a 4.3/8.2, which is second behind the Presidential debate on February 26, 2008. That means, in Nielsen ratings talk, it garnered a 4.3 share, equaling to 8.22 million viewers who watched the hockey game.
If the game was put on NBC, where there would have been more viewers, the rating for the game would have decreased, because more people would have turned off the game, preferring figure skating over three hours of a hockey puck getting slapped around. Twenty-two million viewers watched ice dancing. How many of them was going to watch a hockey game?
If last night’s game was any indicator if hockey is back, don’t expect it to be long term. It helps in the short term, but the average hockey ratings have scored between a 2 share and a 5 share at best during the regular season. It’s not a knock on the good ol’ hockey game. It’s called making a business decision. NBC, who has been broadcasting the Olympics for non-stop since 1992 has done research on what viewers will watch, will not watch, and how to craft their prime-time schedule to which they can get the most viewers to watch the Olympics.
Hockey is a niche sport in cities like Buffalo, Minneapolis, Boston, Chicago, Toronto, and Vancouver. Of course, there are fans in Los Angeles who watch hockey, but it pales in comparison to the numbers who do in the cities I mentioned. Once these Olympics are over, it will be interesting to see how many “new” or casual fans will continue to watch hockey once the NHL season resumes and heads to the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring.
Today, the Canadians may add another level of hate towards us for what happened last night, but there is something that they will always take claim to: “Hockey Night in Canada.” One of the longest running programs in Canadian history, HNIC is the Canadian version of the NFL here. What made HNIC popular was the “Hockey Theme” by Delores Claman. For a long time, it has been one of my favorite tunes to listen to.
Have a listen, you hoser.