Damien Cox Rips NBC For All-US Winter Classic

Damien Cox (poorly) attempted to step outside of his comfort zone of covering the Maple Leafs tonight when he said that NBC should have a Canadian team play in the Winter Classic. Now, on face value, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea. However, from a TV perspective, it makes no business sense for NBC (more to come on that). Here is a collection of Tweets from Cox about his viewpoint on the Winter Classic.

  • “Gotta laugh at how NHL celebrates only U.S. teams for Winter Classic while revenues of six Canadian teams carry entire league.”
  • “Watching NBC/NHL pretend Canada doesn’t exist over next two days makes you. . . pray for rain. . . :)”
  • “First NHL outdoor game was, of course, in Edmonton. But don’t expect to hear that on Saturday. Canadian NHL teams need not apply.”
  • “And the rest of the schedule this season for the NHL on NBC? Not a single Canadian team. They just pay the bills, I guess. What an insult.”
  • “You’d think NBC might want to show the league’s reigning MVP. . . .” (Defending MVP is the Canucks Henrik Sedin if you forgot. I know I did. All I remember is Jon Toews in the Playoffs last year because that is what matters.)
  • When asked what Canadian team NBC should air, Cox replied, “Oh, I dunno. Maybe the Montreal Canadiens, the most successful team in the history of the freakin’ league.”
  • “Thirteen teams in NHL received revenue sharing last season. All in United States. I’m just sayin’. . . . .”
  • “Total would include Islanders except that’s defined as a “large” market, therefore ineligible.”
  • “Last few Winter Classics generated about 4 million viewers. Geez, that’s not even a Grey Cup.”

And my personal favourite, in reply to Puck Daddy editor Greg Wyshynski’s remark “Talk about clueless: You know NBC doesn’t show Canadian teams b/c Canadian viewers don’t factor into U.S. ratings, right?”, Cox said, “Talk about desperate. You’re counting a pre-season game in a parking lot? C’mon.”

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a clue in hell what Cox is talking about. However, he certainly is the one who is coming off desperate.  Wyshynski brought up a great point and Cox didn’t have a real answer. Also, little does Cox know that the hockey community views Wyshynski as a better writter than him.

Now, let me expand on why NBC doesn’t have a Canadian team air in the Winter Classic. By airing a game between Pittsburgh and Washington they bring in a potential 8 million viewers between those two markets alone. All of a sudden if the matchup was even Washington-Montreal, that number would be cut down to a potential 5.4 million viewers in the home market of Washington. The 3 and a half million people in the Montreal area don’t count for NBC because advertisers only care about the US market, so their numbers don’t include Canadian viewers.

To his point of Canadian teams’ revenue carrying the entire league. I won’t question him as to whether its true, but it wasn’t that long ago that the likes of the Senators and Oilers certainly weren’t carrying the league. If he wants to make that argument, I’ll counter that Crosby and Ovechkin carry the entire league marketing wise. No Canadian team can offer a player with the brand name of those two.

On to the next point, I’ve never seen NBC ignore Canada. If anything, the NHL on NBC mentions Canada more than they have to. Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk (who played in Winnipeg) love Canada and mention Canadian teams more than the MLB on Fox or NBA on ABC mention Canadian teams in those leagues. NBC’s producer also loves Canada, in particular the Montreal Canadiens. That is why NBC televised a game from Montreal against the Rangers a couple of seasons ago. There is no way that NBC had to go a Canadiens game because the ratings were way down, but they did it out of respect for the Canadiens game. So, if Cox thinks that NBC doesn’t care about Canada, he couldn’t be more wrong.

Now I could have a different opinion than the rest of the country, but I’m not insulted about not seeing a Canadian team on NBC.  Personally I like the NBC Sunday games as a great chance to see a game involving US teams. Complaining about NBC not showing a Canadian team is like complaining about CBC not showing a game between the Thrashers and Panthers.

Oh, that reminds me. Here in Canada people will watch hockey almost regardless of who is playing. There are lots of Bruins, Blackhawks, Rangers, Red Wings, Wild, Sabres etc. fans in Canada. There aren’t many casual American fans who like the Leafs or Canadiens (and certainly not any of the other Canadian teams). That would be like expecting a casual soccer fan from London to have Rangers or Celtic as their favourite team over the plethora of teams in the London area. My point is, CBC and TSN can get away with showing American teams because hockey is king in Canada, it will still get good ratings. That isn’t true in the States. NBC needs to maximize ratings because otherwise, the ratings wouldn’t even be good enough to have games on an OTA network.

Lastly, how can he compare the US rating for the Winter Classic to the Canadian rating for the Grey Cup. That is comparing apples to oranges. The Grey Cup is the biggest sporting event in Canada, surely he doesn’t think the Winter Classic is (or should be) the biggest sporting event in the US. The Grey Cup competes against one NFL games (which it has a 2 hour headstart on), while the Winter Classic competes against numerous college football bowl games featuring teams from the Big Ten. The Big Ten has 4 bowl games that compete head to head with the Winter Classic. That means that every team had a 1/3 shot of playing in that timeslot. That includes Penn State (Philadelphia market), Michigan and Michigan State (Detroit market), Illinois and Northwestern (Chicago market) and Minnestona (Minneapolis/St. Paul market) all have a good chance of having one of their college football teams playing head to head with the Winter Classic. These are also the cities where the biggest US NHL teams come from, so you can see where I’m going. Not to mention that the Big Ten is looking at adding the likes of Missouri (St. Louis market), Maryland (Washington, DC market), Boston College, Syracuse (New York City market) and Pittsburgh who are all in large NHL markets. Despite all of this, the Winter Classic is still the highest rated NHL game in the States every year.

If Cox thinks the Winter Classic is a NHL showcase, especially one for the league in Canada, he is sorely mistaken. It is meant as a way (a cheap way for that matter) for NBC to combat losing the Gator Bowl. They get a big hockey showcase to show on New Year’s Day to go up against the big, mighty bowl games on the ESPN networks. For the day and time that it is shown, the ratings show that the game overachieves.  In Canada we have our own hockey showcase this time of year, the World Juniors.  And we have our own outside NHL showcase, the Heritage Classic. So, I don’t see what all the whining is about. The way it is now NBC is happy because they have their big showcase on New Year’s Day, CBC is happy because they have their’s the week after Hockey Day in Canada and Versus is happy because they get to carry an outside game. Of course the fans are also happy because there are two outside games, not one. It seems that Cox is the only one who isn’t happy actually.

We have many things to complain about when it comes to the NHL on NBC in Canada. Whether it be how they schedule playoff games on Saturday afternoons, taking away from CBC’s Saturday night broadcasts or their asinine scheduling of the Stanley Cup Final. This is not one NHL on NBC thing that is worth complaining about.


10 thoughts on “Damien Cox Rips NBC For All-US Winter Classic

  1. Here’s the thing, while Cox botched (badly) his reply to a valid rebuttal of his point, he does bring to light an issue that I think bears serious discussion.

    NBC is missing the mark by pretending that Canada doesn’t exist *at all* in the NHL, especially now that the American men’s and women’s ice hockey teams in the last two Olympics have given the Canadian squads all they could handle (Not to mention the World Junior win by the American team last year)

    Your own comment that “NBC televised a game from Montreal against the Rangers a couple of seasons ago. ” shows that NBC itself is either myopic to the opportunity presented to them or prefers to try and beat their heads against the same tired “All American” drum that utterly misses the point that the NHL *isn’t* merely an American proo sports league.

    I’m not saying that other leagues and their TV partners aren’t as guilty of ignoring Canada (FOX and MLB would rather believe that Toronto didn’t exist and the NBA’s TV partners treat the Toronto franchise like it was genital herpes)

    Ultimately what Damien Cox failed to do in his defense of his position was offer a reasonable explanation of his position, but it doesn’t mean his overall point is any less valid. NBC could, if they would simply stop navel gazing and expand their horizons, perhaps find a formula that would get them want they want, a larger fanbase and higher veiwer numbers.

    • I think that NBC does just fine in recognizing Canadian teams though. There is no way that a Canadian team will bring up NBC’s ratings, so they don’t want to show their games. There is also no way that any Canadian team wants to play at 12:30pm on NBC on a Sunday afternoon, or on a Saturday afternoon during the playoffs. They would all much rather play on CBC on Saturday night.

      The way for NBC to get higher numbers would be to stop ignoring the western fanbase. Instead of having only 12:30pm games from the eastern timezone, regionalize their games. Have a 12:30pm Eastern Conference game for viewers in the ET and CT and then have a 6:00pm ET (3:00pm PT) game for those in the MT and PT. Golf coverage would air in between most weeks. Even if they didn’t do this every week, they should at least do it a few times. I think that having more Sharks, Kings and Avalanche games for the west would help their ratings more. Regional games on February 13, February 20, March 6, March 20 and April 3 would make sense. They could then go with national games on January 23 (to avoid NFL conference championships), February 6 (to avoid the Super Bowl) and April 10 (to avoid The Masters).

  2. Regarding NBC regionalizing their coverage on select Sundays to expand Western Conference coverage:

    A good idea in theory but the practical problem is thanks to the concentration of hockey reporting media on the Eastern seaboard, teams in the Western Conference get almost no in depth coverage, which is a key point to selling the game.

    I mean aside from the Canadian Western Conference teams and the two Original Six US franchises (Detroit & Chicago) news from other western conference teams only seems to emerge when “The feces hits the rotating fan blades” in one form or another.

    Not even the NHL *itself* gives the Western Conference what I would call “equal coverage” to the Eastern Conference. Sure the Western Conference teams don’t have a Sidney or Alex (and their “rivalry”) that the NHL can market into the ground and back, but feeding them the scraps hardly helps.

    Given this scenario, I just can’t see NBC pumping the money into a second TV crew to do Western Conference games when the likelyhood of a decent return on their investment would be almost nil.

    • I agree with you in practical terms, Daniel, but at some point you’d think NBC would want to start building on its momentum. Eventually, they are going to want more viable markets than just their Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philly, Boston, NYR, Washington loop, you know? At some point, they’re going to have to try taking a shot at making stars out of Drew Doughty, Matt Duchene and David Backes or else just be content with basically writing off everything west of the Mississippi on these broadcasts. And I don’t think they will be content with that – do you?

  3. If NBC and Versus don’t carry much of the Canadian teams, how are U.S. viewers supposed to know their players? Vancouver is an exciting team, but unless you get the NHL Network, you hardly ever see them (1 appearance on Versus). Edmonton has the #1 rookie in Taylor Hall — neither network is carrying the Oilers. Canada is 20% of the NHL.

    There was a report that NBC didn’t want to do a playoff game in Montreal last spring. There was a feeling that the Eastern Conference schedule was set up for NBC, rushing Montreal that had just completed its second straight 7-game series. Yes, NBC did a game in Montreal, but they had no choice.

    And NBC does go out of its way to ignore the history of the Heritage Classic. And the only reason Versus will carry this year’s Heritage Classic is that the NHL is making them do so.

    • I agree that Versus should carry the Canadian teams (especially Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto) more, but that doesn’t mean NBC should. Versus has tons of games over the season, while NBC only has a few and they have to make them count.

      Like I mentioned, yes NBC really screws with the playoff schedule. That doesn’t change the fact that they have no reason to show Canadian teams in the regular season though. Even if say the Thrashers were in that East Final the same thing would have happened.

      Do you have proof that Versus doesn’t want to carry the Heritage Classic? I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t want to. They will probably be able to pick up CBC’s feed and it is on a Sunday night when there isn’t much else on.

  4. I am looking at this year’s schedule for Versus: Toronto and Vancouver have 1 game, Calgary has 1, but only because they are playing Montreal. Edmonton, Ottawa have zero. That doesn’t seem like a lot. And Montreal only got a few because of last year’s run (which makes sense).

    My beat is writing about Canadian teams being on TV in the United States at CanadianCrossing.com. So that is my perspective. Would like to see more Canadian teams on U.S. TV.

    I don’t have proof that Versus isn’t excited about carrying the Heritage Classic. But you have to ask when was the last time two Canadian teams played in the regular season on U.S. broadcast or basic cable TV. Versus probably has never done so in the history of its contract.

    I hope Versus picks up the CBC feed, like the NHL Network does. My fear is that we’ll get Versus announcers (not Doc and Edzo), and they will have no clue about Canada. I’m hope I’m wrong about that.

    • But… why *would* Versus air an all-Canadian matchup outside of a special event like the Heritage Classic? They’re running a business, not a charity and the fact is that Americans just aren’t interested in large enough numbers to air a Vancouver/Edmonton game.

      I’m usually one of the first people to whine when NBC tinkers with the playoff schedule and robs us of our Saturday night games, but this makes perfect sense to me.

  5. I don’t think it makes sense for Versus to (normally) carry an all-Canadian game. I was only responding to my perception that Versus is not thrilled to have to do so. To have the Heritage Classic played in Canada and not get TV coverage in the United States would have played into the popular and usually accurate perception that Gary Bettman doesn’t like Canada. So Bettman and the NHL brass is making Versus do something it wouldn’t otherwise do.

    • But, I think Versus wants to air it because they can still market it as an outside game, and the only one they have at that. They know they will probably never get an all-US outside game. I think it will still get higher ratings than whatever Versus usually airs on Sunday nights. Remember, this is the same network that aired the Grey Cup in the same timeslot a couple of years ago.

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