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MBPT Spotlight: NBC Sports Group Looks To Gain On Last Season's Record NHL Viewership

10/03/2013 02:02:10 PM Eastern

National Hockey
League telecasts on NBC and NBC Sports Network, now known as NBCSN, last season
were hot.

When the
lockout-shortened 2012-13 NHL
regular season ended in late April, NBC Sports Network crowed that it was the
most-watched NHL season on cable television since the
1993-94 season on ESPN/ESPN2. On NBC broadcast network, the weekend afternoon
regular season game viewership was the most-watched on the network since the
2005-06 season.

The entire 84
game Stanley Cup playoffs on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC was the most-watched postseason since
1997 when ESPN and Fox shared the NHL TV rights. The six-game Stanley Cup
Finals matchup won by the Chicago Blackhawks over the Boston Bruins was the
most watched Finals since 1994. And Game 6 drew 8.2 million viewers on NBC, up
66% over the previous year's Game 6.

That's a lot of
success to boast of, and NBC and NBCSN toted that and a great deal of positive
viewer data in its efforts to sell this season's hockey ad inventory earlier
this year. And marketers are starting to see NHL telecasts as a way to target those hard
to reach millennial males, according to Seth Winter, executive VP, sales and
marketing, NBC Sports Group.

The NBC and
NBCSN hockey telecasts have an audience skew of about 65% male, Winter says,
which is typical of most professional sports viewership, but he says hockey
viewers are younger, more highly educated, more upscale and tend to be more
tech savvy.

The networks are
only two days into the new NHL
season, but there are already positives to report. Winter says NHL ad sales across both networks are at
about 60% of the ad revenue target goal for the season, and ahead of where NHL ad sales were over the two previous
seasons at this point. He says the networks are getting mid- to high-single-digit
increases for various ad packages.

"The NHL is a relatively long season [more than eight
months, including the postseason playoffs], so a lot of the postseason ad sales
come later," Winter says, adding that with the Winter Olympics coming up in
February on NBC, it will be good to have ad inventory available for later in
the season.

"The hockey
competition in the Olympics in February will have a significant impact on our
later season and postseason ad sales," Winter says.

Teaming Up

Since a large
number of NHL players are on Olympic hockey teams for
their respective countries, the NHL
suspends play during the Olympic Games. But Winter says the sizable audiences expected
to watch the hockey competition in Sochi will help draw some of the more casual
fans to watch Olympians after they've returned to their respective NHL teams.

"I anticipate
Olympic hockey to create a lot of viewer interest in hockey, and more fans
later in the season and for the playoffs will benefit advertisers," he says.

Winter adds that
all of the major NHL marketing partners have a sizable ad
unit load in the regular season and playoffs. Included among those major
marketing partners are Bridgestone, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Geico, Honda,
MillerCoors and Verizon.

And on Monday,
the NHL announced that Advil signed a deal to
become a league partner and will be marketed as the official "Pain Reliever" of
the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and of the new 2014 Coors
Light NHL Stadium Series, which will field a
number of additional outdoor games featuring NHL teams. As a new partner, Advil will
receive prominent ad placement inside NHL arenas and on on-camera dashboards, and
will also run commercials on NBC and NBCSN.

Winter says that
while the marketing deal is with the NHL, the NBC Sports Group worked closely
with the league to put the thing together.

"We get
tremendous support from the league and we work closely with them to put
together media sponsorships," Winter says, adding that many of the league
partners this season "have stepped up and are spending more on advertising."

Classic's Cold Comforts

The NHL Winter Classic returns this season,
after it had to be postponed last season when the lockout shuttered NHL doors until January 19. The Classic, played
each year in an outdoor stadium, will feature the Toronto Maple Leafs and
Detroit Red Wings who will face-off in Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Jan. 1,
2014, at 1 p.m. NBC will televise the game. The 2011 Winter Classic drew 4.5
million fans on NBC, while the 2012 Classic drew 3.7 million.

New this season
will be the NHL Stadium Series and a fellow outdoor
showing, the NHL Heritage Classic. NBC will televise one
of the Stadium Series games-the New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils to be
played at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 26 at 1 p.m. NBCSN will televise the
other three-Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings from Dodger Stadium on Jan. 25
at 10 p.m., Rangers vs. New York Islanders from Yankee Stadium on Jan. 29 at 7
p.m., and Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Chicago Blackhawks from Solider Field in
Chicago on March 1 at 8 p.m.

NBCSN will also
televise the Heritage Classic on March 2 at 7:30 p.m. with the Ottawa Senators
taking on the Vancouver Canucks from BC Place Stadium in Vancouver.

Winter says
advertisers looking to get into these key games must buy them as part of
packages. "We're very mindful that these are tentpole events and we make them
available to advertisers who buy across the entire breadth of the season," he says.
"It's very rare to let advertisers just buy units in these telecasts."

More to Watch-and Buy

To meet what the
NBC Sports Group sees as a growing demand for hockey coverage, NBCSN is launching
two new NHL programs-NHL Rivals and NHL Top 10-on
Tuesday, Oct. 9. NHL
Rivals
will air on
Tuesday nights at 10:30 and highlight historic matchups of the teams that will
play in the live Wednesday Night Rivalry game. It will be repeated on
Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m., leading into NHL Live, the pregame show before the Wednesday night game telecast.
NHL
Top 10
will air on
Tuesdays at 11 p.m. leading out of NHL Rivals, and will feature lists of hockey bests, like top goal
scores, top U.S.-born players, toughest places to play in the NHL and so on.

The Wednesday Night Rivalry game telecasts
were a big reason why NBCSN's regular season viewership reached record levels
last year. In its first year, WNR
games averaged 646,000 viewers, and eight of those games were the most-watched
live game telecasts ever on the network [which was Versus until it was
rebranded in January 2012].

Winter says in
addition to advertisers buying into these two new shows and into the NHL Live pregame show, NBCSN's expanded coverage of college hockey
has drawn more interest from advertisers.

NBCSN has
increased its college hockey games this season, which mostly air on Friday
nights, to more than 20, including showings of the Big 10 and Hockey East
conferences, as well as Notre Dame, Winter says. He adds that some college
hockey ad units have been included in many marketers' NHL packages.

In total, NBC
Sports Group will televise 103 NHL
regular season games-13 on NBC and 90 on NBCSN. All games will also be streamed
live via NBC Sports Live Extra, available on desktops, mobile devices and
tablets.

September
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