If it is true that television ratings are aimed at audiences on the East Coast, what is the NHL doing with the all-California battle? Take a look at the start times of each matchup. Games 1 through 4 of the Sharks-Kings series are each scheduled to start at 10:30pm Eastern Standard Time. While primetime for the locals at 7:30pm, it puts fans on the opposite coast in a bind. And as this matchup has shown us before, those fans will miss out.
The Power of Primetime
According to a study by Nielsen in 2011, primetime television is 8-11pm Monday through Friday. On the weekends, this slot is typically shorter. As most media hubs are based out of the New York area, the East Coast bias is very real. With the majority of the population also in this region of the contiguous United States, it is understandable that the start times for games should be aimed at the largest audience.
However, in that same survey, it was noted that the most watched TV is from 9:15-9:30. The least watched part of primetime? 10:45-11:00, or in other words, the midpoint of the first period. The East Coast goes to bed before the game has a chance to even get going.
Sharks-Kings is Must See TV
Sure it’s an all-California matchup. Sure they are two cities within 20 miles of the Pacific Ocean. But why does that mean hockey fans should ignore it?
And to think, the East Coast has been asleep since this game was 1-1 #SJSvsLAK
— Kenneth Laws (@Kenneth_LawsTHW) April 15, 2016
I’m sorry, but this is a really late game, there’s 5 minutes left in the second and it’s 12:15 already, game’s gotta be a little earlier.
— Corey Spina (@CSpina20) April 15, 2016
Two years ago, the Kings completed the reverse sweep. If the NHL continues to have the start time past 10, the world will not be able to watch if it happens again or the Sharks finally get the monkey off their back.
Game 1 was a gladiator match. With the score 1-1 after the first frame, the offense exploded. 2 more goals each, including a brilliant shorthanded snipe from Trevor Lewis came in the back and forth second period. As soon as one team nosed out in front, the opponent tied it back up within 40 seconds. The rivals traded penalties and often came to shoves and face washes. As soon as the third period started, nearing 10pm local time (1 in the morning EST), the Sharks jumped ahead. And then, the final minute saw the best part of playoff hockey: a 1 goal lead with an empty net. The Kings peppered the net and the Sharks flung themselves in front of anything slightly resembling a shot.
Start Times Desperately Need Change
Being based in California, I personally have no issue enjoying these incredible battles that all 3 California teams. But the NHL should share the wealth. The Ducks have the luxury of playing a team based in Tennessee, so their start times for games 3 and 4 move up to 9:30 and 8:00. It is still strange that they expect the good people of Nashville to stay up past midnight for the first two crucial contests.
In the first round, there are a surplus of games vying for primetime TV. With 8 series all going on, time must be used effectively. The average game is around 2 hours and 20 minutes. Obviously, there aren’t going to be 9+ hours of hockey on a weeknight, so the games must be staggered (two at the same time, 4 a night). With the more eastern games at 6:30, and the second set starting at 9:30, more viewers on the East Coast will get to watch. Even a 10pm start would be more beneficial. 10:30pm is far too late.
Fans may be more inclined to watch their own favorite team, but when it comes to playoff hockey, there can never be enough. But, when kids in New York had=ve to go to sleep and miss epic late night games, it alienates fan bases. San Jose and Anaheim often feel disrespected by the NHL because they never get the media attention of the big markets and East Coast squads. Moving start times up would bring these teams to the spotlight like they deserve.