It’s a bullish weekend for the NHL, with Hockey Day in Canada — hosted in Victoria — showcasing wall-to-wall television coverage featuring its seven Canadian-based teams on Saturday. It’s been a particularly solid week for the Edmonton Oilers, who have won 12 consecutive games as the hottest team in the NHL and in North American professional sport, and for the Vancouver Canucks, who announced some welcomed franchise stability in granting president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford a three-year contract extension Friday.
Meanwhile, the NFL broadcast train continues to roll with the head of steam of a powerful locomotive. The so-called “Super Wild Card Weekend” generated some of the most-watched first-round playoff games in NFL history, with an average U.S. national audience of more than 40 million tuning in for the Green Bay Packers’ convincing upset win over the Dallas Cowboys, and another 35.8 million watching the Los Angeles Rams fall in the Detroit Lions’ first playoff win in 32 years.
It didn’t end there: The six wildcard games averaged 30 million viewers, even when including the relatively small 23 million for the Chiefs-Dolphins matchup that was streamed exclusively on NBC’s Peacock outside of Kansas City and Miami. The latter had to be considered a big success story for the Peacock streaming channel, as it was for the NFL and video streaming in general. Take note: It was the biggest streaming event in U.S. history. There will be much more of that in the years to come as streaming gains even more traction, especially among younger fans.
Given that television ratings are all about storytelling and — like a good book — are typically built on an engaging opening chapter, the strong start to the NFL post-season should translate into equally robust numbers the rest of the way, including for Super Bowl LVIII next month in Las Vegas. Ratings nerds like me will on the one hand note the absence of strong heritage brands such as the Cowboys, big markets like L.A., and popular franchises with rabid fan bases such as the Philadelphia Eagles.
On the other hand, the divisional and conference rounds will have plenty of storytelling to work with. Watch, for example, for robust Canadian television audiences on the strength of good runs by border franchises such as the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions, two of the three NFL teams still alive that have never won a Super Bowl (along with the relatively new Houston Texans).
Sports Illustrated writers and staff go into the weekend in an unfortunate state of uncertainty, if not total chaos. A Friday morning email from Arena Group, the operators of Sports Illustrated, announced the planned moves as a response to the revocation of the SI marketing license by Authentic Brands Group. That’s where the buck appears to stop. The immediate question is does Authentic have an end game for SI? Is there a golden knight that could help 70-year-old SI continue publishing and save some if not most of the magazine’s content creators? Why would Authentic revoke the license if it didn’t have any inherent value, such as that created by a potential rescue of arguably the most iconic sports publication in history?
Tom Mayenknecht is the host of The Sport Market on Sportsnet 650 on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Vancouver-based sport business commentator and principal in Emblematica Brand Builders provides a behind-the-scenes look at the sport business stories that matter most to fans. Follow Mayenknecht at: twitter.com/TheSportMarket.
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