With the Red Wings in Pittsburgh with a chance to clinch the Stanley Cup on Tuesday night, team officials were hoping to host a viewing party at the vacant Joe Louis Arena. In previous seasons, 15,000 Wings fans would pack into the Arena to watch the game on "Joe Vision," but they won't be able to do so this year because NBC won't relinquish their exclusive broadcast rights.
It's an understandable move. Crain's Detroit Business reports that the network could lose a full ratings point to a near-sellout at the Joe, a loss that would cost them money when it came to setting ad rates in the future. That's not an insignificant concern, but you wonder why they'd have to lose the point in the first place.
Why wouldn't the 15,000 or so fans at the arena still count for ratings purposes? It would seem easy enough to find out how many households were represented at the arena, and since one ratings point represents 19,270 households in the Detroit area it would be very easy to factor those findings into the final ratings. Once you've dealt with that, you'd think anything that encouraged fan support of the NHL would be a win for both the league and the network that is televising its games.
It also seems worth noting that the Penguins hosted outdoor viewing parties for Games Three and Four in Pittsburgh last week. Those games were on Versus, not NBC, but still saw ratings go up from a year ago when the same two teams squared off. NBC's ratings have been up from last year as well, an upward trend that everyone associated with hockey should be trying to capitalize on in every way possible.
Finding a way to work around the ratings issue might even help NBC more than just having people in their homes anyway. Many people in the Detroit market get CBC on their televisions, which means they may be staying home and watching the game on a different channel anyway. That's not going to help ad rates nor is it going to engender the kind of enthusiasm for hockey that you'd have at the Joe on Tuesday night. That's bad for the NHL and NBC, which is pretty much counter to the whole idea in the first place.