Hockey was set to continue its moment in the sun when the snow started falling in Chicago on Saturday. And the National Hockey League couldn’t have been happier.
The Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks were set to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins outdoors at Soldier Field, where the Bears play, in the first regularly scheduled primetime broadcast of an NHL game since 1976. A March storm turned the stadium into a giant snow globe, which made passing the puck difficult for the players, but made for excellent TV for NBC..
The game was part of the league’s Stadium Series, which wrapped up the following night in Vancouver. It also came just days after the league closed up shop for two weeks in midseason as its best players traveled to Russia to play in the Olympics, also on NBC.
With a collection of high profile events on its schedule, the league decided to produce its own program, NHL Revealed, a seven-part series providing a behind-the-scenes look at the sport’s best players as they prepared for outdoor contests in North America and the games in Sochi.
NHL Revealed covered Soldier Field with cameras and microphones, according to Bob Chesterman, senior VP, programming and production for NHL
Enterprises. They had cameras on the refs, in holes in the dasher boards and over the benches. The league even used a drone called a hexacopter to take unique aerial shots.
“We want to offer better angles and take a deeper dive.” Chesterman said as the flakes fell. That can’t be done during live in-game coverage.
The league is spending as much per episode as HBO’s 24/7, which leads up to the NHL outdoor Winter Classic, says Chesterman. But while 24/7 focuses on teams, Revealed focuses on players.
When Blackhawk captain Jonathan Toews brought a make-a-wish kid into the locker room, Revealed was there. When Islander foreward Kyle Okposo’s wife had a baby,Revealed covered it. When players talked strategy and when refs discussed whether a play was a goal or interference, cameras and mikes were there to capture them. Even in Russia, Revealed had amazing access, aided by NBC and the CBC, not coincidentally, the NHL’s key media partners.
The penultimate episode of Revealed airs Wednesday on NBC Sports Channel and Thursday on CBC in Canada. Longer “director’s cut” versions of the show are available online, via iTunes.
“Our players are great guys,” says John Collins, COO of the NHL. “Until you see it from the inside, you don’t appreciate it.”
Revealed is part of the league’s effort to give its fans amore access.
Hockey’s been on a bit of a roll lately. Ratings are up. And at a time when live sports is the most powerful programming on TV, the NHL’s value of a media property is growing. Back in 2006, the NHL was a $2 billion business that generated just 6% of its revenue nationally, Collins says. Now it’s a $3.3 billion business with $1 billion in national revenues. It also just signed the biggest media deal in the history of Canada worth $5.2 billion over 12 years.
Collins says the league sees opportunity exporting its game international as well as by making a grassroots effort to get more kids to play the game in the U.S. and even in Canada.
A little snow didn’t slow the Blackhawks, who won 5 to 1, and drew a 14.9 rating in Chicago—NBC’s highest rating ever for a regular season NHL game in the Windy City.