For as many New Year’s Days as I can remember I have attended or watched the NHL’s Winter Classic. This year was no different as the Chicago Blackhawks faced off against the Boston Bruins. Two of the NHL’s Original Six teams, played an outdoor hockey game at Notre Dame’s Football Stadium. The scenery was beautiful in this made for TV event.
Aerial shots of a packed football stadium (over 75,000 fans) showed the hockey rink literally at mid-field of the football field. The players walked in from outside the stadium in two lines with “Touchdown Jesus” in the background and entered the ice to the Fighting Irish fight song. Notre Dame’s famous “Play like a Champion today” was everywhere on oversized hockey pucks and placards. From an on-site and on-air standpoint it was nearly a perfect event.
This was the 11th NHL Winter Classic and it has become one of the league’s marquis events. I have to think when NBC Sports’ Jon Miller approached the NHL with the idea, everyone thought he was nuts. Maybe the outside hockey game was an ok idea, but competing head to head with College Football on New Year’s Day? Someone must have a screw loose. College Football is arguably the nation’s 2nd most popular sport behind the NFL and it has owned New Year’s Day forever with a collection of bowl games.
It got me thinking about sports radio. There must be times where your station just doesn’t compete. You may not even try to compete at some times. If another station in town is the NFL flagship or the flagship of a major MLB or college football team the challenge can seem daunting. But that may be just the time to try something big or something completely out of the box for your station. Here are some ideas worth investigating:
- Fantasy Sunday – So your station isn’t the flagship? That’s ok. Up against the game you can do complete fantasy football coverage. This would include scoring updates as they happen and continually updating player stats for the day. If you want to make it bigger, do it at a sports bar each week.
- 2nd “Screen” Experience – What about doing a talk show with analysis during the game. It’s a talk show about the game as it is happening? A guy at the Score (Mike Murphy) used to do it during the Bulls playoff run and called it “Instant Analysis”. With the right host, analyst, and producer you can make it a really great, fast-moving show. A show you can promote as “Watch the game with the sound down and listen to us!”
- Hot Stove Baseball Show-While the NFL is the biggest thing going in sports (by far!), your local team may not be any good, but the interest in baseball remains all season long. It’s a great time to create some appointment listening for the baseball fans. Certainly helps if you’re the baseball flagship, but if you’re not, the right host and former manager or player can do the trick. Can be re-packaged as a Hot Stove Podcast after the fact as well.
- Live from the Sportsbook –It’s the 21st Century sports bar complete with live betting and big screens where, at least to someone in there, every game matters. Have a host and your station’s gambling expert. If your state hasn’t come around on sports betting yet, time to partner with VSIN (Or Matt Perrault) for more sports gambling related programming.
As a reflection back to the NHL’s Winter Classic, this year’s game between the Blackhawks and Bruins at Notre Dame’s Football Stadium had a respectable 2.98 Million viewers. While that number pales in comparison to the big New Year’s Day games (Fiesta, Rose, Sugar), it is the highest rated NHL Winter Classic in four years. Plus, the football stadium was at capacity—76,126 fans to see a hockey game outside on New Year’s Day. More fans attended the Winter Classic than the Sugar Bowl (71,000) and Fiesta Bowl (51,000).
What I respect is that despite the lock College Football has had on New Year’s Day, the NHL put its biggest event (outside of the Stanley Cup finals) right up against it. And it works. The sight lines and views at Notre Dame were amazing and the tie-ins with ND football and hockey were spectacular.
The overall point for sports radio stations is this—compete everywhere!! Don’t assume another station has a daypart or time slot locked up. Maybe they only have it locked up because you have chosen not to compete on that day or in that time slot. Happy 2019—now go get ‘em!