When NBC Universal released its national television schedule of NHL games in July, the Nashville Predators got the short end of the stick. The team will only appear twice on NBCSN in the 2016-17 regular season, which is down from their four appearances in 2015-16.
Small-market Nashville is behind teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, who lead the way with 21 games aired between NBC and NBCSN, and the Philadelphia Flyers, who are next with 20. Teams like the Blackhawks and Flyers draw big ratings, but more variety is needed.
There have been complaints about a more even distribution of games among teams and the Predators have reason to be annoyed. Fans that watch the NBC/NBCSN will miss out on one of the most intriguing teams in the league.
Nashville Predators: One of the Great Eight
The Predators were one of eight teams to win a first playoff round series last season and were one game away from reaching the Western Conference Final. However, the team has the least number of national television appearances among the last eight. (Dallas is the next lowest on the list with four).
One would think that a team that has improved a ton in the offseason would get some more love, but they are a forgotten club. That isn’t a problem for small-market teams in other sports that have achieved success like the Green Bay Packers in the NFL, or the Kansas City Royals in the MLB or the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA. Leagues find a way to feature these teams prominently on national TV.
Most fans want to see the best teams regardless of where they come from and Nashville has plenty of exciting elements to them. It’s possible that fans would gladly sacrifice games involving well-covered teams to see more games featuring teams that could be in the mix for the Western Conference crown.
The Predators also have to go a long time between national appearances. They host the Blackhawks on Oct. 14 on NBCSN and don’t return to the channel until April 6 when they travel to Dallas to take on the Stars. Nashville Predators fans will have to wait 174 days between national television appearances.
Stars Don’t Get to Shine
The lack of TV appearances for Nashville is also puzzling because the team has emerging stars like Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen, as well as arguably one of the most exciting defensemen in the League in the recently acquired P.K. Subban. The Predators got the Toronto-native after dealing longtime captain Shea Weber in the offseason.
Subban was on one of the more high-profile teams in the League with the Montreal Canadiens, but Canadian teams aren’t usually a rating’s draw. The trade for the Norris Trophy winner should be reason enough for his team to be showcased to American fans that haven’t had a chance to see him play. However, that won’t be the case.
Nashville’s stars aren’t the only ones to be slighted. Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs will get a single national TV game in the U.S. when they face the Detroit Red Wings in the Centennial Classic on New Year’s Day. Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers won’t get a single chance to show their stuff to an American audience as they don’t get a game on US national TV. The League and NBC are failing when it comes to trying to showcase new stars.
No Changing on the Fly
The schedule was most likely completed before the big Weber for Subban swap, but the network should have taken trades and free agent moves into account before locking in this year’s slate. That kind of inflexibility limits potential storyline games or ones that have playoff implications.
It’s also not as though NBC is incapable of being able to move games around. The network is known for swapping or “flexing” out games in their Sunday Night Football schedule. (Games can be changed out starting with Week 11.) The practice replaces a less-appetizing matchup for one that has playoff ramifications.
Flexing games is something that the channel can do within two or three weeks’ notice, so they can properly market it. If it can be done in the NFL, NHL games should be able to receive similar treatment. What happens if a team with a lot of games falls out of contention and plays nothing but meaningless games? Teams like Nashville should be moved into these spots.
It’s always hard to strike a balance between showcasing the teams that grab ratings and showcasing ones that are great despite existing in a smaller market. However, a team like Nashville, that could be a force late in the season, should get a chance at more exposure.
There is hope that the NHL Network will pick up the slack and make the Predators a staple of their national TV schedule. These scheduling errors could also be an incentive for fans to spring for the NHL Center Ice package so they can get a look at one of the better teams in the league.