When NBCSN released their schedule of nationally televised games for the 2015-16 season, some quickly noticed that the Tampa Bay Lightning -- the reigning Eastern Conference Champions, and a remarkably fun team to watch -- were only slated to appear 8 times.
That means twelve other teams will get more national TV games than the Lightning.
The gut reaction from Lightning land was that the team that pushed the dynastic Chicago Blackhawks to a sixth game in this spring's Stanley Cup Final (and drew some outstanding national ratings in the process) was, once again, getting the short end of the stick from the national media in terms of coverage.
Still, if giving the benefit of the doubt to NBC is something you want to do, you could make the argument I tried to make yesterday:
Tampa Bay as a TV market is bigger than most think and is did really well during the playoffs but NBCSN games are still about eyeballs.— Kyle Alexander (@kalexanderRC) July 27, 2015
Looking at the markets -- in terms of raw number of television households -- sheds some light on why Tampa Bay gets the national attention they're getting (read: not much).
It's a numbers game, and NBCSN is all about maximizing viewership and, thus, advertising revenue; 8 of the 12 teams getting more NBCSN games than the Lightning are ranked above Tampa Bay in terms of Nielsen's DMA (Designated Market Area) ranks from 2014-15 (Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, New York, Boston, Washington, Los Angeles, and San Jose). Of the teams getting more games than Tampa Bay that rank lower by Nielsen's DMA numbers, three are located in the Western Conference (St. Louis, Minnesota, and Colorado) and one features Sidney Crosby, the most marketable (marketed?) hockey player on the planet (Pittsburgh).
The strategy, then, seems to be to get the teams in the biggest television markets on NBCSN as much as possible, and to try and incorporate the larger non-Eastern time zone markets, too. It's simple, perhaps too simple, and you can certainly argue that it is shortsighted; after all, growing the product should be just as important as cashing in on the most bankable franchises and superstars. Tampa Bay is an established media market on par with Detroit and ahead of places like St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Denver, with one of the game's brightest young stars in Steven Stamkos and a bevy of young talent around him, but NBC seems not to have noticed.
The NBCSN schedule sticks to what the NHL has always done since Versus was rebranded -- go to the Original Six well early and often, and get the biggest media markets on the national air as much as possible. That's fine in the short term, but one wonders what the Lightning (and Tampa Bay) would have to do to get themselves a bit more national attention.