Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Monday, April 16, 2021

neverending story
Four years ago, I presented by thoughts on why multiple overtime periods were ultimately a bad idea for the NHL.

My feelings haven’t changed much. Neither have the opposite opinions, really, despite the major post-lockout change of shootouts deciding regular-season contests.

Despite passage of time, I think my counters to maintaining the current system of perpetual OT still carry weight. And so, as I hinted earlier, I’ll reproduce the heart of them here for debate. I’ll annotate where appropriate.

First, the traditionalist (AKA anti-shootout) argument:

- The biggest argument traditionalists use against the shoot-out is that it reduces the game to a skills competition, and makes the preceding hours of gameplay nearly irrelevant. And the thing is, this is essentially true. Yet consider: What does the unlimited playing of sudden-death OT represent but an endurance contest that has no relation to the previous 60 regulation minutes of hockey? Once you get into overtime, the score basically gets reset to 0-0. It doesn’t matter at all what happened scoreboard-wise before that.

But here’s what does matter: The ice is chewed up, the players are tired, and the recovery time between games in a compressed playoff schedule becomes shortened considerably. Multiply that by (at least) two for every extra overtime period, and the negative impact is cumulative. All these things conspire to make the added gameplay anything but equal to regular gameplay. The moment that overtime starts, it becomes just as much a contest as a shoot-out would be, except it relies almost solely upon who can overcome fatigue and errors instead of skill. And to boot, it can take a ridiculously long amount of time, versus the relatively short time a shoot-out would take.

Not much to add to that. The regular-season shootout draws grousing, especially from Toronto, where it’s now reviled for helping bounce the Maple Leafs out of the final Eastern playoff berth. The criticism is largely capricious, though, and there’s no organized effort to try to get it repealed. In fact, the schizophrenic status of embracing it for 82 games and excluding it from the Stanley Cup tourney seems unlikely to persist. The physical factors mentioned above are even more pertinent, in my mind.

Now, the other half of the argument was/is that overtime periods lead to higher television ratings:

- From the economic standpoint: Ratings are paramount, and it’s hard for the league to ignore any uptick, slight though it may be. But there are two caveats here:

1) A tenth of a point actually is small enough to disregard. Just because NHL ratings are already so miniscule that a .1 or .2 increase represents a 30-40% gain doesn’t mean you have to keep the rules in place that potentially take games into the wee morning hours, where they could adversely affect future games. Advertisers don’t see an increase from .8 to .9 as a reason to significantly up their spending. When and if ratings move up to a level where they become a fantastic buy, the NHL can start worrying about it. Sticking to a playoff format that nets such small shifts isn’t justified; go with a change in format that has a better chance of upping the ratings a lot.

2) Keep in mind that the extra OT periods are commercial-free. This is done in an effort to keep the game from going even longer in real-time, and it’s a good idea from that angle.

But it also means that any ratings increase is, in effect, pointless. Advertisers aren’t totally stupid; they look at those increased ratings for an overtime game, and come back with, “So what? Maybe more people are watching late at night, but we can’t get our ads in front of their eyeballs during the game. During the intermission periods? Yeah, right, those exact blocks of time when viewers know they can switch channels for an extended period and not miss a second of game action. Thanks, but no thanks.”

So if you think about it, padded ratings due to overtime really don’t benefit advertisers, and they’re the only ones who matter as far as the ratings go. Beyond the broadcasting dollars, inside the arenas, most concessions close down at the end of the third period, so there’s little extra money being made that way (especially with the big money-makers, beer and alcohol, which stop being served in the middle of the third at most venues). Add to that that employees have to be paid overtime, and there’s really little to no economic benefit to sticking with non-stop overtime.

I’m going to have to plead ignorance as to whether or not Versus is broadcasting playoff overtimes commercial-free, as ESPN did back in the day. I watched a full OT period of this year’s Dallas-Vancouver Game 1, but honestly don’t recall if it was uninterrupted or not. I’m guessing not, in the interest of expediting the game. If so, my three-year-old example stands. If not, I still think the base ratings remain so low that it’s not a real justification for hanging onto this enduro-contest format.

My original prediction was that the NHL regular season would keep going with overtime-only (limited and ending with ties, the norm for thirty years), while the playoffs would adopt shootouts to decide games. Turns out the opposite happened. So maybe my luck with playing advocate for change in this arena sucks. Still, I’m hoping someone at league HQ sees the light I’m shining.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 04/16/2007 11:30:26 PM
Category: Hockey | Permalink |

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