When NBC agreed to broadcast a few regular season and playoff weekend games and the Stanley cup finals in prime Time, NHL viewership was so weak that the network didn’t even have to pay the usual “rights fees” that sports leagues usually can demand.
So why is NBC getting record TV ratings for Hockey this year? For years hockey has struggled on television. As a kid after screaming myself hoarse at Ranger games in smokey Madison Square Garden, trying to watch a game on TV was excruciating. As hard as it was to see the puck, sometimes even the camera man would lose the puck.
So what changed? …the size of TV screens. With the spread of large-format, hi-def TVs, you could actually follow the fast-paced action. So a sport, which grew up on frozen ponds in cities like Chicago, now has a rabid fan base in the Sunbelt, with many local junior leagues.