Turner Sports prepares for its first Stanley Cup playoffs
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Turner Sports and ESPN air the NHL playoffs after 16 years on NBC and NBCSN.
By JOE REEDYAP Sportswriter
Liam McHugh knows the rigors of hosting studio shows during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially on nights when the games are played in the multiple overtimes on the West Coast.
McHugh is in for some relief this season. With Turner Sports and ESPN resuming the playoffs after 16 years, it won’t be nearly every night like it was on NBC and NBCSN. TNT and TBS get their first games on Thursday after ESPN and ESPN2 carried the first three nights of the playoffs.
“It will be weird not being on all the time. I will say I think there’s something great about recharging your batteries, having a day or two to get away from it, watch it as an observer and then come back fresh based on what you watched said McHugh. “Because it becomes Groundhog Day. Sometimes you don’t know what day of the week it is, and you feel like you’re talking about the same story over and over again. So getting some fresh air is probably going to be a good thing for everyone.
Turner hopes keep going of a successful regular season in the playoffs. Its matches, mainly on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons, averaged 361,000 viewers. This represents an increase of 29% over last year on NBCSN (280,000) and 24% over 2019-20 (292,000).
Overall, regular season games on TNT, ABC and ESPN averaged 460,000, an 18% jump from last year (391,000) and a 15% increase from 2019- 2020 (398,000).
“More people are consuming the game. We’re at a point where people want what they want, when they want it, how they want it, and that’s what we’re delivering,” the NHL commissioner said. , Gary Bettman, in an interview with The Associated Press. “What was driving our new media deals in the United States was because we felt – without cutting it and dicing it too much – that we wanted there to be access to our games in more places but easy to find.”
The fourth playoff games on ESPN and ESPN2 Monday’s opening day posted solid numbers, averaging 576,000 viewers, a 17% increase from 2019, which was the last time the playoffs were held in a traditional format. The Boston-Carolina matchup on ESPN (857,000) was the most-watched Game 1 of a first-round cable series in 20 years.
TNT and TBS will broadcast up to 49 playoff games. Turner Sports and ESPN will split the first and second rounds while each has a conference final. The Stanley Cup Final will air on ABC this year and on TNT next season.
While ESPN still had a core group with hockey experience when it regained NHL rights last year, Turner started from scratch. Most came from NBC — like McHugh and Kenny Albert’s top team of announcers, Ed Olczyk and Keith Jones — but there were some new faces.
The biggest change between Turner and NBCSN was the studio show. McHugh and Anson Carter worked together at NBC, while Wayne Gretzky, Paul Bissonnette and Rick Tocchet were new to television. Gretzky will be a more frequent presence in the studio during the playoffs.
“At NBC, we’ve always had that creative side, that fun side, but I think Turner really takes it to another level,” producer David Gibson said.
“You always want to hear every little thing he has to say about hockey, but he’s also the guy who can tweet the other guys on the desk and can take a tweet from them,” McHugh said. “Because of that, it’s more like four or five guys sitting around watching the hockey, really enjoying it, but also giving you some pretty good analysis along the way. It definitely exceeded my expectations.”
Albert said he noticed the immediate chemistry of everyone in the studio when they walked up to them during intermission.
“There’s a lot of interaction, and everyone has fun with it,” he said. “That’s probably been one of the biggest differences, it’s just the studio fun this year and the back and forth we’ve been able to have both before, during and after games.”
McHugh will have two challenges during the playoffs — explaining to viewers that some West Coast games will start on TruTV and HLN when Game 1 isn’t over, and preparing Gretzky, Bissonnette and Tocchet for studio segments during marathon games.
“We’re going to have late nights, and they’re going to have late-game joy in the West, and we’re heading into quadruple overtime. And it’s now two o’clock in the morning. So have another cup of coffee because you must have the same energy you had seven hours ago when we first came on air because viewers don’t expect you to look tired,” McHugh said. “I think I look forward to those moments. Because in the end, those are the ones that are remembered.
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this story.
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