Bad timing for World Cup of Hockey |

Bad timing for World Cup of Hockey

For most die-hard hockey fans like myself, Saturday’s start to the first edition of the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto is going to be a joyous time. What better way to get in the mood for hockey than to see the world’s best players represent their countries in a big Olympic-style hockey tournament in the hockey mecca of the world? I really can’t think of a better way, honestly.

But that’s not what this column is about. While I am really excited to see what Team USA looks like under John Tortorella and stars Patrick Kane, Joe Pavelski and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson, I have serious concerns about just how successful this tournament will have on television in the United States.

With the start of the tournament scheduled for Saturday, the World Cup of Hockey will run into direct conflict with college football games such as Alabama-Ole Miss, Oregon-Nebraska, Ohio State-Oklahoma and Notre Dame-Michigan State. That’s just one day, which happens to be the start of the highly-publicized tournament. Not a good start for the World Cup of Hockey.

Sunday doesn’t get much better either as Team Sweden vs. Team Russia runs right into conflict with afternoon NFL games, while the night game of Team North American vs. Team Finland runs right up against Packers-Vikings on Sunday Night Football. Anyone want to wager just how little viewership North America-Finland draws in comparison to Packers-Vikings? It won’t be pretty for ESPN and the World Cup of Hockey tournament.

It doesn’t get much better for the tournament throughout next week either as Bears-Eagles starts at the same time as Russia-North America on Monday night. Where the tournament will have to carve out its biggest nights of viewership is on Tuesday and Wednesday as they’ll be the lone events on sports TV that night outside of baseball. If your favorite MLB team isn’t in the running for the playoffs like mine is (thanks, Pirates), I’m willing to bet you’ll be tuned into the World Cup of Hockey.

But that’s about it for the tournament as the NFL reigns supreme again on Thursday night with Houston-New England.

Once the group play is over in the World Cup of Hockey, it jumps right into semifinal action, which just so happens to be Saturday and Sunday evening. Again, very poor timing.

Next weekend you’ll have Chicago-Dallas on Sunday Night Football, as well as LSU-Auburn, Stanford-UCLA and Texas A&M-Arkansas on Saturday night. Football is king at this time of year, so the World Cup of Hockey had to know they’d be up against a monster when running the tournament at this time of year. While viewership will be great in Canada and Europe, don’t expect the numbers to be very good in the States.

The struggle to get viewers won’t be because the product is poor, but because of the fact that the tournament is in direct competition with college football and the NFL. That’s really the most frustrating part about this tournament for me, personally.

Hockey is a fantastic sport that often gets overlooked in this country. Some say it’s too fast (if a sport can be) and other says its far too complicated with all off the moving parts and the tiny little puck that you can’t keep track of on television. While I think all of that is a load of crap, people are entitled to their opinions.

I know why this tournament was put together and I think the organizers had their hearts in the right place by trying to emulate the Olympics again — this time on a bigger stage, but the timing of it is all wrong, especially if you’re trying to attract new fans through your product.

It’s great that global superstars like Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Steven Stamkos are taking part in the tournament, giving the World Cup of Hockey serious superstar appeal, but it won’t matter much in the States due to the fact that football will run in direct correlation to the games for much of the week.

I’ll watch though, simply because I love hockey and want to experience something I’ve never seen before outside of the Olympics. I grew up hearing stories of the 1987 Canada Cup, and that’s what this new tournament is being compared to in terms of star power and style of play, so it should be interesting. But I would lobby to make a change in time of year for the next World Cup of Hockey.

Why not move it to late February around the time of the All-Star break in the NHL and give teams two weeks in the competition, not three. At that time, nothing would really be going on outside of the NBA and some college basketball tournaments. That’s not as much competition as MLB, college football and the NFL.

During that time in late February, interest in hockey is in full swing as the regular season is more than halfway over, and players would be much more interested in competing in the World Cup of Hockey with something at stake, instead of the All-Star Game, which is nothing short of a major joke these days.

While the NHL doesn’t like sending its players to the Olympics every four years (and likely won’t in 2018 in South Korea), there’s no denying just how much good the exposure the Olympics provides does for the NHL and the sport of hockey itself.

But who knows; maybe the World Cup of Hockey proves me wrong and does great on television in the States. Maybe Team USA (without my guy Phil Kessel on the roster… how dumb?) makes a deep run in the tournament and plays for the championship, giving casual hockey fans an incentive to tune in every night. But I wouldn’t hold my breath on any of those things happening. Football is king; always has been and likely always will be in this day and age.

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