NHL Turning to Reality Series Such HBO's "24/7" to Draw Casual Fans
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The National Hockey League (NHL) is hoping that their five outdoors games, two upcoming reality series, and the 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia will help raise the profile for the North American professional hockey league.
The NHL has teamed up with HBO to do a 24/7 Red Wings/Maple Leafs: Road to the NHL Winter Classic series while also leveraging their broadcast relationships with NBC Sports and Canada's CBC to produce an all-access series, NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other, focusing on the 2014 Stadium Series outdoor games in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago; the NHL Heritage Classic in Vancouver; and the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.
"We love the game, we admire the players and we want to take that and make it as big as we possibly can," said NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins to NHL.com. "We want to make it big through the events we do. We want to make it big through the programming we do. It's not just enough to feed the core hockey fan, but we want to expose the sport to casual fans as well and continue to grow the game. That's been a huge part of the partnership with CBC and it's been a huge part of the NBC relationship."
The success of the NHL's Winter Classic has spawned the addition of five more outdoor games this season after the popular, annual outdoor game was canceled last year due to the owner's locking out the players in a labor dispute. HBO's 24/7 Red Wings/Maple Leafs: Road to the NHL Winter Classic debuts Saturday, December 14, and will follow the Red Wings and Maple Leafs in the weeks leading up to January's Winter Classic at the "Big House" on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
"HBO's '24/7' has been a game-changer for us," said Collins. "The wide-open access our clubs provide on and off the ice gives a real sense of what it takes to play in the NHL and just how special our players are. Our fans love it, and there's no question new fans have been attracted by watching the games and the personalities come alive through the lens of HBO's storytelling."
The NBC / CBC series will be produced by Bristow Global Media, Inc., with former CBC executive Julie Bristow, who handled production on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, heading the NBC / CBC project. Ross Greenburg, former HBO Sports president, and Steve Mayer, senior vice president at IMG Productions, will serve as executive producers.
"It's a huge storyline for how we want to profile the game and how we want to profile the players," said Collins. "CBC and NBC have come on board, as they always do, to make some of this a reality. We've been able to pull together really an all-star lineup of executive producers to tell the stories that are going to come out of a hundred days and nights of shooting throughout this process."
NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other will follow the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings - who are set to play at Dodger Stadium, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks - who will play at Soldier Field, as well as the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, and New York Rangers - who will host the Devils and the Islanders on two separate dates at Yankee Stadium.
The series will also follow the Vancouver Canucks and the Ottawa Senators, who will play in the NHL Heritage Classic in Vancouver, B.C., at the BC Place, before the television series moves its focus onto the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, where the stars of the NHL will play for national pride and an Olympic gold medal while showcasing the sport to both new viewers being exposed to the game for the first time and casual fans.
"NBC is a partner on this, and they are giving it a pretty extensive platform," said Collins to USA Today. "Then there is the international opportunity because of the Olympics and because of the appeal of hockey, and the appeal is a great opportunity for us. We have a combination of big television rights holders and also the opportunity to go digitally with all of this content."
Greenburg said that one of the interesting plot-lines for the television series is watching players transition from being NHL teammates to Olympic rivals. Producers will pay particular attention to Pittsburgh Penguin C Evgeni Malkin, who will go from being Sidney Crosby's teammate to his Olympic rival playing in front of his home country, representing Team Russia.
"There is something about going home to play in front of your home country in your home event," said Greenburg about highlighting Malkin in the upcoming series. "There is some beauty to that."
The NHL Players Association (NHLPA) is fully supportive of the projects, with players understanding why shows such as NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other and 24/7 Red Wings/Maple Leafs: Road to the NHL Winter Classic are important to the league and the sport's image.
"The players are excited to be a part of it," said Steve Webb, a divisional player representative for the NHLPA. "They understand to grow the game we have to do things like this, we have to do things big, extravagant in a way where it creates attention and draws people in to watch our sport. Here you have an opportunity to get really in-depth behind the scenes with a lot of our greatest players."
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