NBC looks to break the ice

Focus on NHL stars, game of week

NBC will create an NHL game of the week and focus on emerging hockey stars in an effort to reverse a ratings slide last season that occurred after the league's yearlong lockout.

After having to sit out a season before its rights deal began because of the 2004-05 lockout, NBC's hockey telecasts averaged a 1.0 household rating compared with ABC's 1.1 in 2003-04, according to Nielsen Media Research.

This year, NBC wants to put more of a spotlight on an individual game to draw in hockey fans, not just the fans of one team. The network will still carry three regional games but will focus marketing on one game that features emerging stars, like Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have the ability to become this generation's Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky.

"We're still doing three games because you have to regionalize hockey, but there is a focus game, and we want to take advantage of this new NHL," said Sam Flood, coordinating producer of NBC's hockey broadcasts.

About 60% of the country will see NBC's first game, which will feature Crosby's Penguins facing their cross-state rivals the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 13. (The other games are Los Angeles-St. Louis and Boston-New York Rangers.) Flood said that Crosby and other youngsters on the Penguins inevitably cause comparisons to an emerging superstar who lifted basketball in the 1980s and '90s.

"They're still a second-tier team, but they're rising so fast and they're so much fun to watch, you're hoping it's similar to a rise of (Michael) Jordan," Flood said.

Ads for NBC's upcoming NHL telecasts will take a prominent role in the network's Christmas Day coverage of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles game and will be seen elsewhere on the network, in entertainment as well as sports. The ads feature Crosby and other up-and-comers like Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.

Flood said there are other in-game improvements coming this season, including more of the "Inside the Glass" reporting by former coach Pierre McGuire, which brings about 30% of the telecast on the ice and benches rather than the traditional overall shot so common in hockey broadcasts.