Auston Matthews’ four-goal NHL debut was the talk of not only the hockey community, but the sporting world as a whole. Matthews set an NHL record by scoring four times in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ opener, one of which was this incredible effort in which he made several Ottawa Senators look silly. Meanwhile over in the Western Conference, Connor McDavid started the 2016-17 season with two goals and an assist of his own, including this nasty penalty shot goal.
Though McDavid is only in his second season in the league and Matthews is not even a handful of games into his career, it’s already apparent that the NHL has two superstars on their hands. That point may have been made already to fans who followed the two youngsters prior to their NHL debuts. But it’s now abundantly clear, as the duo has stolen all of the headlines so far in 2016-17.
How are NBC and NBCSN, the hosts of the league’s national games in the United States, cashing in on the success and buzz of McDavid and Matthews? By almost completely ignoring them.
If you look at their broadcast schedule, Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs will only be featured nationally in the United States once when they take on the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 1, 2017 for the Centennial Classic. McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers aren’t featured even once on NBC and NBCSN this season.
Instead of showing off two of the game’s most exciting skaters, NBC and NBCSN will feature the usual teams and characters. The Boston Bruins will appear on NBC and NBCSN 17 times in 2016-17. That’s insane, especially considering the Florida Panthers, the winner of the Atlantic Divison which the Bruins finished fourth in last season, will only be covered once. The Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals once again make regular appearances.
The league and NBC are, once again, playing it safe. There’s always a risk that a young prospect won’t pan out. However, in the case of McDavid and Matthews, that risk seems to be worth the enormous upside of showcasing some of the most marketable talent the NHL has seen in ages.
Want to know the best and easiest way to build a brand and show off the excitement in the NHL that comes through young players? Give fans around the country a chance to watch them live. A casual hockey fan, or even a non-fan who saw the highlights of Matthews’ four-goal debut may tune in to see what he can do next. That’s an opportunity the NHL and its broadcast partner aren’t allowing by sticking to a familiar, tired formula.
The NHL is constantly preaching about its efforts to grow the game and expand its footprint. But those statements fall on deaf ears as they, along with their U.S. broadcast partner, continue to miss out on an obvious opportunity to market the game’s young talent.