With less than two weeks to go before the 2016-17 NHL season begins, NBC Sports Group is pacing about 5% ahead of last season in its ad sales for telecasts on NBC and NBCSN, says Seth Winter, executive VP, sales and marketing. Ad revenues are expected to get more of a boost in the coming weeks when the NHL announces the identities of a few more league partners.
Keith Wachtel, the NHL’s executive VP, global partnerships, says he will be announcing some new U.S.-only NHL partners prior to the start of the season on Oct. 12. Those new league sponsors will be making ad commitments to NBC telecasts.
“We’re still talking with some prospective advertisers and the league is finalizing its new sponsor discussions,” Winter says. “So we expect to bring in more ad dollars prior to the start of the season.”
While NBC is not showing the huge percentage sales volume increase it did at this point last season (close to 30%) it is building off a much higher base. That NBC’s hockey ad volume is higher at all than last season is a positive since NBC advertisers also poured more than $1.2 billion into the network’s Summer Olympics coverage and also hundreds of millions into its NFL Sunday Night Football telecasts.
“The sports marketplace is very healthy and hockey is in a very good place,” Winter says. “And our NHL audience is younger and more male than other sports and an audience that marketers find desirable.”
Winter says that “virtually all our sponsors are back from last season,” and adds that since there is no exclusivity in NHL coverage, there are no categories where marketers can be shut out. Strong ad sales categories include automotive, QSRs and insurance.
The NHL’s Wachtel says the current World Cup of Hockey in which numerous NHL players are participating in for their various countries (with the games being televised on ESPN) is giving the league’s stars additional exposure before the start of the season and also getting them into excellent shape.
“Our players will be in the best shape ever heading into the season,” Wachtel says. “The level of play beginning on opening night should be top-rate.”
NBC Sports has had some positive viewership data to use when selling its ad inventory for the coming season.
NHL viewership on NBCSN during the 2015-16 regular season was the highest it’s been for a full NHL season on cable in 22 years. NBCSN’s 94 regular-season game telecasts averaged 378,000 viewers, up 8% from the 2014-15 season. Its exclusive Wednesday Night Rivalry matchups averaged 608,000 viewers, also up 8%.
The NHL on NBC’s 11 regular season games, which included the Winter Classic and NHL Stadium series matchups, averaged 1.54 million viewers, up 6%. Across all 105 NHL regular season games on NBC and NBCSN, the 2015-16 season averaged 503,000 viewers, up 2%.
The six game Stanley Cup Finals telecasts featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks averaged 3.94 million viewers, while the clinching of the Stanley Cup for Pittsburgh in Game 6 drew 5.4 million viewers. The six-game average fell significantly from the 5.5 million posted by the 2014-15 Cup Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning, but last year’s finals did not have an Original Six team in it. Those teams–from New York, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto and Montreal–tend to draw larger audiences of hockey playoff fans.
NBC Sports Group will televise a record 106 NHL regular season games, beginning with a doubleheader on Oct. 7, featuring preseason matchups between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks at 8 p.m. Eastern, followed by the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks at 10:30 p.m. NBC will televise 14 games and NBCSN will televised 92 games. NBC’s coverage begins on Friday, Nov. 25, at 1 p.m. with the annual Thanksgiving Showdown game, this year between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.
The annual Bridgestone Winter Classic will take place on Jan. 2 on NBC at 1 p.m.at Busch Stadium, where the Chicago Blackhawks will take on the St. Louis Blues. Since it began in 2008, the outdoor Winter Classic has produced the five most-watched NHL regular season games in the past 41 years.
NBC will also televise the NHL Centennial Classic pitting the Detroit Red Wings against the Toronto Maple Leafs at BMO Field in Toronto on Jan. 1, 2017 at 1 p.m. And NBC will also present this season’s Coors Light Stadium Series contest between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins from Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Feb. 25 at 8 p.m.
NBCSN will present coverage of the 2017 NHL All-Star Weekend from the Staples Center in Los Angeles during the weekend of Jan. 28-29 with the NHL All-Star Skills Competition televised on Saturday and the All-Star Game on Sunday.
NBC Sports Group will also stream live coverage of all the NHL regular season games via TV Everywhere on desktops, mobile devices, tablets and connected TVs.
The Chicago Blackhawks will make the most appearances on the NBC-NBCSN coverage with 21, followed by the Philadelphia Flyers with 20 and the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins with 16 each. Every U.S. team will make an appearance during the regular season.
In the preseason, NBCSN will also televise the second annual Kraft Hockeyville USA matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 4. The game will be played at the Lakeview Arena in Marquette, Michigan.
Kraft Foods sponsors an annual competition in which communities compete to demonstrate their commitment to ice hockey. The winning community gets a cash prize to upgrade their local hockey arena and get to host an NHL game. The competition has been taking place in Canada since 2006 and was first held in the U.S. last year.
The NHL has 19 North America official partners and 3 specifically for the U.S., along with 11 Canadian partners. In addition to Bridgestone and Kraft, the North America partners include ANCO, Draft Kings, EA Sports, Enterprise, Honda, LVCVA, MillerCoor/Molson Coors, PepsiCo, Prime Sport, Reebok, SAP, Sirius/XM, Starwood Hotels, Ticketmaster, U-Vend, Upper Deck and York Heating Air Conditioning. The U.S. specific partners include Discover, Geico and Constellation. Hershey’s, Mondelez and Samsung are among the Canada partners. The North American partners are active in both the U.S and Canada.