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Will fans watch six hockey games a day from behind-closed-doors in two different empty-seat venues with staggered start times of 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., from two different time zones on television every day through July and August? Even in Canada?
What might Stanley Cup playoff TV numbers look like in July and August?
Those are big questions in the U.S., where NHL rights-holder NBC is looking to replace endless hours of postponed Tokyo Olympic Games coverage with a salvaged NHL season.
Should the NHL return, particularly with a two-hub concept featuring 12-teams in each, as seems to be the trending concept, it’s open to debate what the numbers might be like even in hockey-crazy Canada.
Normally, the highlight of the hockey season in Canada is the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, with eight series going at once and everybody alive in their hockey pools.
But that would have concluded a couple of weeks ago.
Interest, with the departure of eliminated teams and the arrival of summer, normally drops dramatically until spiking again for the Stanley Cup final.
We’re now closing in on June and there’s still no set plan in place for rebooting the season. That first round, perhaps after a play-in round of best-of-three series, might not be played until mid- or even late July.
Would this year’s Stanley Cup be viewed instead as the COVID Cup?
One thing we discovered this past weekend: After an endless number of distant replays of various games telecast in a multitude of sports, even a North American audience that wouldn’t normally watch a soccer game from Germany was willing to embrace something live from somewhere.
OK, in the case of one game, maybe it wasn’t some soccer game from somewhere because of Canadian Alphonso Davies playing for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.
There wasn’t any expanded detail the network offered to share, other than to report that the Bundesliga fixtures reached 632,000 Canadian viewers on Sportnet. But Davies can add another early credit to his career.
“The Bayern Munich-versus-Berlin Union match on Sunday was the most watched Bundesliga matchup on Sportsnet to date,” the network offered in response to my request.
Hardly Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, but …
Sportsnet, you’d have to figure, considering all the money they spent to acquire NHL telecast rights, might be one of the most interested observers of all looking ahead to a return of the league to complete their season and proceed to the Stanley Cup playoffs in empty arenas.
There was a lot of focus on the Bundesliga around the sports world that wasn’t exclusively about Edmonton’s Davies. It was about an entire league returning to action ahead of the other four major soccer leagues in Europe, with live action in empty stadiums while the NHL, NBA, NFL, MLB watch with significant interest in planning similar returns in North America.
Sky Deutschland’s telecasts attracted record numbers, including 3.68 million viewers the first day back, more than double the usual Saturday afternoon audience.
In Great Britain, the TV numbers increased five-fold from the average Bundesliga games normally telecast on that side of the English Channel.
In the U.S., Fox Sports reported the Borussia Dortmond-Schalke broadcast drew a gained audience of 725 per cent more than it’s last Bundesliga broadcast prior to the shutdown of league play.
But this is May. And we’re talking hockey in July and August.
We’re closing in on June and while progress is being reported, there’s still no plan in place for rebooting the NHL season.
You figure they are going to have to produce one by June 1. Time is becoming a factor.
Players need to relocate to their NHL cities from around the world to quarantine for 14-days before they start skating in small groups of five or six leading to the start of a three-week training camp.
When does time run out on the idea of playing additional regular-season games, plus best-of-three play-in series to cut the field from 24 to 16, and the start of the traditional four-rounds of best-of-seven series?
Will people, even in Canada, want to sit inside watching hockey games on TV in July and August unless their Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Jets, Oilers, Flames or Canucks are involved?
And if you’re, oh, say, a Toronto fan, do you really want to watch the Maple Leafs win their first Cup since 1997 on TV from an empty arena in, oh, say, Edmonton?
How about from an empty arena right at home in Toronto? Maybe even the reconfigured one that used to be Maple Leaf Gardens where they last won it in 1967?
On Twitter: @ByTerryJones
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