NBC rooting for Blackhawks: Would hate to lose strong following in huge Chicago market

Not to wave the hometown flag too much, but Chicago Blackhawks fans aren’t the only people upset that they trail 2-0 in their playoff series with St. Louis. NBC also is a bit anxious.

In all sports, the networks always root for the team that delivers the most viewers. That’s the Blackhawks in the NHL.

Not only do the Blackhawks have a big national following as an Original 6 team, their local numbers in the nation’s third largest market usually make up a significant portion of NBC’s overall rating.

Saturday’s game 2 did a 1.6 rating on NBC, up 33 percent from the game that aired in that window in 2013. The game did a 9.5 rating in Chicago, which means it was seen in an estimated 332,500 households.

St. Louis actually had a higher local rating at 11.2. However, since St. Louis is the nation’s 21st highest market for Nielsen, that means the game was seen in an estimated 134,000 homes in that area, roughly 60 percent less than the viewership level in Chicago.

Just do the math, and it is easy to see why NBC is pulling for the Blackhawks to turn things around, beginning with Game 3 tonight.

Chicago power, with some considerable help from Boston, helped NBC and NBCSN average 5.76 million viewers per game in 2013, making it the most-watched Stanley Cup Final on record. Game 6 pulled in 8.16 million viewers, with nearly a million homes watching in Chicago.

NBC is realistic. The networks knows it isn’t going to have Chicago go deep in the playoffs every year.

However, no offense to St. Louis, but NBC would at least like to see the Blackhawks make the conference finals, if that’s not too much to ask.







Best time of year: NBC platforms superserve NHL fans during first round of playoffs

Tonight begins what might be the best two weeks of the year for NHL fans. It is hard to beat the quantity and quality of NBC’s coverage of the first round of the playoffs.

All games will air on its various platforms again. Tonight features Montreal-Tampa Bay on CNBC at 7 p.m. ET; Columbus-Pittsburgh on NBCSN at 7:30 ET; and Dallas-Anaheim on NBCSN at 10 p.m. ET.

There will be four games Thursday, including Chicago-St. Louis on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. ET.

The multi-platform presentation has been huge for the NHL. Play-by-play man extraordinaire Mike Emrick recalled the old days of limited coverage and the contrast to what fans get today.

“I remember there were times when I was with other networks and I’d go into a city and fans say, ‘why aren’t you guys covering more of our series, you’re only doing one game and then you’re leaving? Emrick said. “And it has been so much fun to say we’re doing every game of every series.That was 87 games two years ago, that was 88 games last year, and, who knows, it might have 90 this year.”

The other best part of the playoffs is the parity that exists in the NHL. In the NBA, it is a shock if a No. 8 seed beats a No. 1. Not so in hockey. Every team in the playoff is capable of winning the Stanley Cup.

“I don’t see any sweeps (in the first round), I really don’t,” said Eddie Olczyk. “I think in the Western Conference I mean you’re talking about six games for every playoff series in my opinion.”

The NHL also has some good rivalry series: Rangers-Philly; Blackhawks-Blues; and Boston-Detroit locking up in an Original 6 battle. Plus it has NHL icon Montreal playing Tampa Bay.

Let it begin. Enjoy.


Blackhawks, press box colleagues remember Tim Sassone, a true pro on the beat

This is a sad, sad day for sports media in Chicago. Tim Sassone, the long-time Blackhawks writer for the Daily Herald, passed away this morning at the age of 58.


In an era where it seems to be all about calling attention to yourself, Sassone quietly, but earnestly went about the business of covering hockey. Mark Lazerus of the Sun-Times noted he started on the Hawks beat in 1988, the year Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were born. Quite a run and legacy.

The outpouring of tributes to Sassone underscore the respect and admiration people had for him in the press box. I compiled a collection via Twitter and Facebook:

Toews via Lazerus of Sun-Times: “It’s not an easy thing to see. Obviously, there’s the Blackhawks family — the players. the people that work in the office, the people that make this thing go every day. And I think people like him are a part of that, that write so many good things. He’s such a huge part of the Blackhawks story, especially the last little while. It’s sad to see it happen to someone who’s so close to all the action like that.”

Mark Lazarus: Remembrances poured in from around Chicago and the hockey world on Twitter for a man whose “Gruff” nickname and refreshingly honest media persona belied one of the friendliest, most likable — and to younger journalists, most helpful — people in hockey and in journalism.

Tracey Myers: Thoughts and prayers to the family of Tim Sassone. We lost one of the best in our business. Miss you, Gruff; rest in peace.

Chris Kuc:  Tim Sassone was not only a terrific journalist, he was a great man and even better friend. I miss him already.

Bruce Miles: The Daily Herald and everyone who knew him lost a great one today in Tim Sassone, our longtime Blackhawks beat writer. Tim battled illness the last couple of years. He was among the most respected hockey writers in North America, but he also skillfully covered many other sports, including helping me out on the Cubs beat. He was a great friend. I don’t use this term for many, but he was “the beat writer’s beat writer.” Hall of Fame person and newspaperman.

Herb Gould: Tim Sassone gone? I cannot fathom this. Spent 5 years chasing #Blackhawks pucks with him. Like a brother. Awful. Awful. Awful.

Lindsey Whilhitte: Just crushed to hear the news about my friend and former Herald teammate Tim Sassone. Spent the day with him in Philadelphia when the Hawks won the 2010 Cup. On almost no sleep, he did radio interviews across North America in the morning, wrote multiple stories during the day and night (including a game story that won national awards) and we were just about the last people in the building along with the cleaning staff. Long but rewarding day. I have a treasured photo of him jammed in the corner of the service elevator at 2 a.m. alongside the cleaning ladies and their wares — and the wry look on his face is priceless. A consummate pro and a good man. Damn.

Len Ziehm: I’ve just learned of the death of Tim Sassone, known nation-wide as the Blackhawks’ beat writer for the Daily Herald. To me he was much more than the best beat writer the Hawks ever had, he was also a pro’s pro on the newspaper front. We spent nine years covering the Hawks together and a few more when we did Wolves’ games. But I especially remember how he so capably filled in during the Ryder Cup at Medinah when he was pushed in at the last minute to write the lead story on the final day. Quite a task but Tim, as always, was up to it. A great family man and dedicated journalist, the world needs more Tim Sassones. I considered him a good friend, and I’ll certainly miss him.

Tim Cronin: Saddened and shocked that Tim Sassone has died today. Wonderful person, dogged reporter, brilliant writer.

Roman Modrowski: So shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of long-time Daily Herald Blackhawks beat writer Tim Sassone. He was one of the kindest, most genuine and professional people I have ever met. I’ll never forget as a young writer at the NWI Times, covering the Hawks part time, and Eddie Belfour had made headlines with a meltdown during a game. The next day, Belfour told Hawks PR he would only talk to the Chicago writers, Sass and the Trib and Sun-Times writers. Sass said he wouldn’t do it unless I was included. He didn’t have to do that, but he felt it was the right thing to do. Belfour relented because it was Sass, and I was part of the interview. That was Sass. Always thinking of others. And he always had a smile. What a loss.

David Schuster: So incredibly sad to learn of the passing of one of the solid pros and real gentlemen in our business. The Daily Herald’s Tim Sassone was Chicago hockey. He knew the game and business inside and out but he was also a friendly gentle person. Tim battled his illness with quiet dignity before finally succumbing to it. He never complained and he remained upbeat throughout. Tim will be greatly missed. R.I.P.

Mark Potash: When I was re-introduced to #Blackhawks coverage in 2009-10, I re-learned hockey by reading and talking to Tim Sassone. He was the best.

Judd Sirott: Tim Sassone was the dean of the Blackhawks beat writers. He was a must read. A great man; a great pro; a great character. Sad news today.

Cheryl Rae-Stout: Very sad to hear about Tim Sassone’s passing, he was a pro’s pro. For my money, the best hockey writer in the Chicago area. He grew up where my husband was from and we shared many stories about the “Feast” in Melrose Park . Tim was so proud talking about his son (who is the same age as mine) and their love for sports. My heart goes out to his family and his co-workers at the Daily Herald.

Going out in cold again: NBC, NHL seek to capitalize on Olympic momentum with primetime game at Soldier Field

My latest Chicago Tribune column is on tonight’s Chicago-Pittsburgh game at Soldier Field. With wind chills in the single digits, I am more than happy to watch from the comforts of home. Alas, the NBC announce team won’t be as lucky.

You also can access the entire column via my Twitter feed at Sherman_Report.

Here is an excerpt.


If there were a watch-dog group that monitors abuse against sports announcers, surely it would look into what NBC is doing to Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire.

For the fourth time this year, NBC is sending its lead NHL team outdoors for the call of Saturday night’s Blackhawks-Penguins game at Soldier Field. With the game-time temperature in the teens, the trio will be subjected to another brutal blast of winter.

When asked if this constituted unfair treatment to announcers, NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood replied: “They just spent two weeks in tropical Sochi, Russia. They could use some toughening up.”

Of course, NBC and NHL are thrilled to be out in the elements again. The timing and setting of Saturday’s game is no coincidence. The league wants to capitalize on the huge ratings and even bigger buzz hockey generated in the Olympics.

An outdoor matchup featuring the defending Stanley Cup champions facing the top star in hockey, Sidney Crosby, has so much potential appeal, NBC made it the first regular-season NHL game scheduled for network prime time since 1974; the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh actually aired in prime time on NBC because of weather delays.

“Going to Soldier Field is going to be an incredible venue for this game,” Flood said. “To be outdoors with these two teams, as well as they are playing, really set up a perfect storm for us.”


Regarding the risk of losing the novelty with the NHL staging six outdoor games this year, Flood said:

“Everyone is going to step back and look at all of this,” Flood said. “The league has to decide what it wants to do. I could see doing three or four of them. I’m not sure we need to be doing as many (as six).”


DVR alert: Special NHL Revealed on behind-the-scenes with players at Olympics

The hockey games were a big winner for NBCSN and the NHL at the Olympics. Now both hope to cash in again with NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other Thursday night on NBCSN.

The two-hour film is a behind-the-scenes, all-access look at what occurred in Sochi.

On NHL.com, producer Ross Greenburg talked about the film.

It’s been a frantic few days for the producers of the NHL’s latest reality show.

The Olympic hockey tournament only wrapped up when Canada beat Sweden for gold on Sunday and a two-hour special episode of “NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other” is scheduled to air Thursday night on CBC (and NBC in the U.S.).

That didn’t leave much time to put finishing touches on the behind-the-scenes look at the Sochi Games.

“We’re under the gun,” executive producer Ross Greenburg said in an interview this week. “We worked 18 days of pretty exciting hockey on and off the ice.”

From NHL COO John Collins:

It took months to line up approvals needed to make the film, from the International Olympic Committee, the NHL Players’ Association and the various national hockey federations.

NHL chief operating officer John Collins said the North American TV rights holders CBC and NBC played a critical role in getting co-operation with the project and getting the IOC and other parties on board.

“It gives fans an opportunity to get to know the players better and see how special they are,” said Collins. “The players are such good guys.

“There are so many people, particularly in the United States, who can’t relate because they haven’t grown up playing the game, so to be able to see who they are, especially with the backdrop of the Olympics, gives fans a chance to connect.”

He said another source of drama comes from players who are NHL teammates going against one another with their national teams. They will then show Olympic teammates playing against each other again back in the NHL in future episodes.

“It creates wonderful opportunities to tell stories,” he said.

Olczyk: How about hockey in Summer Olympics? Might be a better scenario for NHL

It seems ridiculous for the NHL to even have a second-thought about whether it will participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

The ratings were huge again in Sochi. Even more importantly, so was the buzz about hockey.

People interrupted their work during the day to watch the big games. Hockey led sports reports. It was No. 1 on the sports agenda for the past week.

When does that happen in February? Heck, it doesn’t even occur in June during the Stanley Cup Final.

The Olympics are an unparalleled promotion opportunity to expand hockey beyond the die-hards in the U.S. and beyond. It is worth the high price of shutting down the NHL once every four years.

NBC obviously wants to see NHL players in South Korea in 2018. However, it isn’t that easy.

During a conference call last week, Eddie Olczyk actually made a compelling argument that hockey might be a better fit for the Summer Olympics.

Olczyk: “I think when you look at the possibilities or the scenarios, you have to look at the business of the game. This is what it comes down to right, it comes down to the business. You shut down your business, being the National Hockey League, for three weeks, or three and a half weeks if you have to travel another five or six hours to get to South Korea. When you have the best sporting event every four years, I was lucky enough to play as an amateur, back in 1984, thirty years ago for Team USA over in the Olympics in Sarajevo, when you have the opportunity to have the best athletes at these games it takes it to another level it takes our sport to another level. Maybe we’re getting to the point where you might have to get creative where everyone is happy, ownership is happy in the National Hockey League, the Players Association is happy, most importantly the Olympians and the fans of the sport.”

“Maybe we are getting to the point where the game of Hockey has to be played in August in the Summer Olympics. Maybe we are getting to that stage where you don’t have to shut down the National Hockey League for three weeks and slow down your business. Canadian markets, Chicago, Detroit, New York, you can go on and on and on. Those aren’t going to take a hit so to speak, when your business or your team goes away for three weeks. But you have a lot of franchises that are treading water, are having momentum and then all of the sudden you go away for a while. But the selling of the game on NBC, having the best athletes play is something I don’t think you can put a price tag on. Maybe, to make everybody happy, maybe somebody needs to say, you know what maybe we can do this, maybe we can have the game of hockey played in the Summer Olympics.”


Meanwhile, Olczyk’s fellow analysts, Jeremy Roenick and Pierre McGuire, made their cases for the NHL to continue to participate in the Winter Games.

Roenick: “In talking to a lot of the players, this event in the Olympics is very important to them. And it’s a very exciting time for them for their families and to represent their country and you talk about the length of travel that they’ve gone through to come here, to stop a season in mid-season as they’re in a race for the playoffs, it’s very difficult, and to have to think about doing that and going all the way to South Korea…it’s going to be really interesting to see what happens after this Sochi Olympics and the travel…how guys are going to feel when they get back. I know the European players, the Russians, the Fins, the Swedes…they’re so loyal and proud of their countries, they’re brought up to want to be Olympians…I know that they would want to be in South Korea, regardless of the travel. I think it’s going to be a very interesting decision.”

McGuire: “I’ll tell you one thing, the T.J. Oshie moment is all you need to know about what the NHL players being at the Olympics is all about. That is one of the most magical moments you’ll ever see. What T.J. Oshie was able to do put the game of hockey right at the front of the entire Olympic spectrum. Without National Hockey League players at the Olympics I don’t know if you can have those moments, I really don’t. So it speaks to the overall appeal of the best players in the world being part of the Olympics. I have not talked to one player that says they do not want to be a part of the Olympics. I have not talked to one. Of all the players I have talked to in the National Hockey League over the last fifteen years, I have not talked to one that doesn’t want to be an Olympian.”


Bottom line: I’m betting NHL is on in 2018.

Outdoor hockey games: Brilliant move by NHL, NBC to fill NFL void

I am a bit concerned that having so many outdoor NHL games will wear down the novelty of these events. However, it is brilliant marketing by the league and NBC to schedule two of these games this weekend.

With no real football to speak of–the Pro Bowl doesn’t count as real football–the NHL and NBC should gain many non-hockey viewers looking for alternatives with their remotes. There will be appeal to see how you can pull off an outdoor game at Dodger Stadium on Saturday night. Then the outdoor game on Sunday at Yankee Stadium will provide a sneak preview for how cold Roger Goodell and his pals will be in watching the Super Bowl the following week.

The NHL and NBC wouldn’t generate nearly the buzz or ratings with two regular-season indoor games this weekend. So a tip of the cap to those in the marketing department.

Here’s what NBC said about the games during a teleconference this week:

Jeremy Roenick (working both games): Being at Dodger Stadium, I think, is epic for the National Hockey League and I think it’s epic for NBC. It’s going to be interesting — the elements, playing in those elements — I think people are going to be really energized and excited to see that kind of game and our kind of broadcast put over the airwaves — which is going to be totally different than we saw over in Detroit with the Winter Classic.

Moving on to Yankee Stadium — it’s going to be a long flight. But again, I think Doc put it perfectly. Such a perfect place to have a game like this in such, I think, a historic — not so much building, but just the overall – the history behind the Yankees and being in New York.

NBC executive producer Sam Flood: The only concern now is how bright the sun will be on Sunday because it’s going to be a beautiful, cold, sunny day and we just got to make sure that the eye black under the players eyes so that they can see the puck and look as mean as the NFL players.

Doc Emrick on playing in Yankee Stadium:  Selfishly I wish we were still in the old stadium because there would be a lot more history that I wouldn’t have to qualify by saying over in the other parking lot where the old place was. But those are just phrases that are easy to rule out.

Flood on having too many outdoor games: And in terms of the number of games we’ve got to see how this plays out this year. The NHL obviously is going to study it and see how it plays and we’ll look at the ratings and we’ll look at where we all are and I think we’ll all have a good sense of it.

But until you try something you don’t know how it’s going to be so it’s not worth guessing whether it’s the greatest thing ever or maybe we’ve gone too far, we’ll see and hopefully it’s the greatest thing ever and we continue to have some fun like this but we’ll get to the right place.

Strong comments from Milbury, Jones on illegal hits in NHL

Maybe because it is hockey, but Mike Milbury and Keith Jones don’t get enough credit for their studio work for NBC and NBC SN.

Both are extremely candid and passionate about the game. When they talk, hockey fans should listen. Such as last night, when they came down hard on illegal hits in hockey, and how some players, coaches and league executives still don’t get it.

HBO’s 24/7 on Winter Classic: Will anyone from Detroit-Toronto rival Bruce Boudreau?

After a year’s absence due to the player’s strike last year, HBO is back with its all-access series, 24/7 Red Wings/Maple Leafs: Road to the NHL Winter Classic. It debuts Saturday at 10 p.m. ET.

The series has been extremely popular, thanks largely to former Washington coach Bruce Boudreau’s affinity for the F-word. Here’s a reminder of vintage Boudreau.

Sean McIndoe of Grantland previewed this year’s cast.

(Pavel) Datsyuk appears to be the current odds-on favorite to emerge as the star. While he has never seemed like an especially outgoing character, teammates say he’s funny and engaging once you get to know him. He’s already one of the league’s most popular players — or at least one of its least-hated — so 24/7 could take him to another level.

And there’s a good chance it will; Datsyuk is the perfect candidate to be a reality TV breakout star. He has been an unlikely success story, going undrafted twice before the Wings finally nabbed him with the 171st pick in 1998. He overcame a language and culture barrier to slowly emerge as a star over his first three seasons, then erupted after the 2005 lockout to become one of the league’s top scorers. He’s a two-way player (he has won three Selkes as best defensive forward) and one of the cleanest competitors (he won the Lady Byng as most gentlemanly player3 four straight times).

Even his fellow players love him. He was the first overall pick in the most recent All-Star draft, and every player poll basically turns into the “We love Datsyuk” show. If that’s not enough, he’s also a hell of a dancer. And he tweets pictures of cats.

He has basically become the heir to Teemu Selanne’s “player who nobody says anything bad about ever” throne, and unless he spends every moment of his screen time casually forearming baby otters in the throat, he’s going to be the star of the series.

Pucks and turkey: NHL hopes to create new tradition with national holiday weekend game

I imagine Thanksgiving was very festive for NHL executives and owners.

On Tuesday, the league shocked our neighbors up North by signing a 12-year, $5.2 billion deal with Rogers Sportsnet for the NHL’s TV rights in Canada. Here’s the link to Steve Lepore’s interview with NHL COO John Collins in Awful Announcing about the new package.

Also, Fang’s Bites did a podcast analyzing  the deal with Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports, Howard Bloom of Sports Business News and Lepore.

Earlier this week, NBC SN reported favorable rating news for the young season:

NBCSN has averaged 595,000 viewers over its first nine exclusive NHL telecasts (mostly Wednesday Night Rivalry), up 31% compared to the exclusive game average to this point in the 2011-12 season (455,000). No November games last year because of the strike.

Also, our Nov. 13 PHI-PIT Wednesday Night Rivalry game on NBCSN drew 759,000 average viewers, making it the most-watched November NHL game on cable since 2001 (Flyers-Rangers, 11/14/01), and the most-watched November NHL game on NBCSN (formerly VERSUS).

Obviously, the NHL has good reason to feel bullish and aggressive. That includes making itself part of the Thanksgiving weekend.

Friday, NBC will air the Rangers at Boston at 1 p.m. ET. This is a big deal for the NHL. The network even enlisted movie director Bobby Farrelly to make promos for the game (above).

The NHL already has carved a slice of New Year’s Day with the outdoor game. Why not try to grab a few eyeballs for hockey on the day after Thanksgiving, typically a big day for college football? It seems like a good move for the NHL and NBC to attempt to reach beyond its core audience.

Yes, it’s been a very good Thanksgiving for the NHL.