The eagle eyes of our friend Steve Lepore of Puck The Media scanned a recent NBC press release and discovered a bombshell, since confirmed by the network: NBC will broadcast Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup finals; Games 3 and 4 will be on Versus; and then the action shifts back to NBC for Games 5, 6 and 7 if necessary.
In other words: If there's a sweep, the Stanley Cup would be awarded on the buck huntin'/cage fightin'/Sports Soup network. Of course, if it's a sweep, then the finals may have royally sucked anyway, which makes their conclusion on Versus rather appropriate, no?
Since 2000, Games 1 and 2 of the finals have been on either ESPN or Versus, before the action shifted to the broadcast network partner. The benefits and drawbacks of that scheme have always been apparent: Games 1 and 2 are usually the scene-setters rather than the games casual fans make time to watch; but on the other hand, how many network shows can you count that have a third of their plotlines start on cable before moving to prime time?
We're totally okay with VERSUS getting two games of the Stanley Cup Final. Unlike NBC, they pay a significant amount of money to broadcast the National Hockey League, and should be rewarded for being the only network to do so. However, I've never liked the idea of the series beginning on cable, because it automatically makes it so the series has to build itself up from the bottom (Alas, the first two games of last year's huge finals NHL-wise couldn't crack 2 million viewers). This is a huge coup for VERSUS, as they'll likely benefit from tons of cross-promotion from the NHL and NBC, who will beg viewers to stick with the series to basic cable.
This is also a good move for NBC. FOX typically used to air Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals from 1995-99, and did pretty well ratings wise, whereas the league struggled to gain momentum with Game 1 airing on cable.
We'd offer that it's also good for the NHL to have the fanfare and excitement of Game 1 in broadcast prime time. It gives NBC a chance to hype the hell out of the first game of a championship round, which greatly enhances the rest of the momentum for the series.
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Now, about Versus: Yes, they're paying more money than the NHL ever dreamed a network would after the lockout, so they deserve something. But beyond their financial stake, what has that network done to deserve this incredible concession? Provided auditory Nyquil for the nation with its D.O.A. studio show? Poorly chosen games? Broadcasted something called "Turkey Revolution" while the hockey world celebrated the trade deadline?
Again, there are benefits and drawbacks. So we put it to you, dear readers:
Pass or Fail: The new Stanley Cup finals TV schedule for NBC and Versus.