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Why NBC killed Tampa Bay Lightning’s Game 7 viewing party

The Tampa Bay Lightning announced on Wednesday that there would not be a Game 7 viewing party for fans outside of Amalie Arena, where hundreds of fans gather in "Thunder Alley" to watch games on a big screen, in a festive atmosphere.

Here was the announcement:

NHL

From the sound of things, those merchants that bring their food trucks and other wares to the Thunder Alley viewing party weren’t expecting that:

But if you’re an NHL fan in the U.S., you’re probably not surprised. Ever since the League signed on with NBC, the issue over large fan viewing parties has come up nearly every postseason.

The first big blowup was in Pittsburgh during their 2009 Stanley Cup run, when large viewing parties outside of the Igloo were sometimes cancelled because "NBC Sports does not allow teams to show their broadcasts on arena screens." The Buffalo Sabres then tried to use their arena camera feeds instead of NBC’s for an outdoor viewing party, but that practice was scuttled too.

In its report on the Lightning viewing party cancellation, Deadspin wrote “the Lightning were only allowed to host one official event per series, and that they’d already used up their slot on the Game 5 party,” and that there were threats of fines from NHL if they didn’t comply.

(Joe Smith of the Tampa Times writes that teams were made aware of this policy on April 12.)

My reactions whenever this story pops up:

1. NBC, and by proxy the NHL, come off as petty killjoys and this decision flies in the face of everything they try to sell the Stanley Cup Playoffs as being, which is a communal experience.

I mean, it’s literally the thing they sold four years ago in an ad campaign for the Stanley Cup Playoffs on NBC:

So yeah, grab your buddies, watch the game, but we really need to cap the head count at like 30 people if that’s OK.

It's embarrassing when the NBA can fill arenas for a watch party while the NHL isn't allowing them. 

2. The fact is that the viewing party cancellations are made because NBC wants every available fan in front of their own television for the game. This is not only to maximize the game’s ratings locally, but to maximize the captured attention of these fans. In 2009, NBC put it this way to me: It's about converting local hockey fans into national NBC and NBCSN viewers.

3. The sad reality is that the margin of success for NHL ratings is so slim that NBC needs both markets in Game 7 to tune in en masse. Those few Nielsen families at a watch party, instead of at home, make a difference. Those people watching a giant screen instead of streaming the game on a mobile device make a huge difference.

They have a 10-year, $2-billion deal with the NHL to broadcast games in the U.S., and that means there’s enormous pressure to justify the cost. Hence, even a few thousands fans watching in Tampa are considered competition.

It sucks, but that’s reality: The NHL is that reliant on local ratings to juice the national numbers.

The ratings for the conference finals have been stagnant in the East and down in the West compared to last season, when the Chicago Blackhawks ratings juggernaut was in it. In fact, Game 4 of the San Jose Sharks’ series against the St. Louis Blues was second-lowest for a primetime game during the playoffs since NBC snagged the rights in 2006 – despite a lead-in from the Preakness Stakes.

It’s both frustrating and baffling every year when millions of hockey fans ignore the playoffs after their teams are eliminated. Perhaps if they didn’t, NBC wouldn’t be freaking out over a few thousands fans enjoying nice weather and Lightning hockey tonight. 

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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