NHL vs. NFL: Is the “Cold War” Heating Up?

Right Wing Conspiracy – 19 SEP 2013

Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.

NHL vs. NFL:  Is the “Cold War” Heating Up?

To a casual observer, football and hockey are two drastically different sports.  On the surface, there would seem to be no conflict between the NFL and NHL.  Beneath the surface, however, at the point where football field meets hockey rink, the two leagues are locked in a war with millions of dollars at stake.  Within this unseen war, the National Hockey League has launched a new offensive.

Hockey and football each have their share of “die-hard” fans, who will always choose to watch their favorite sport over all others.  The two leagues are battling for the crossover fans, those who enjoy both sports.  Put in political terms, crossover fans are independent voters, the ones who really decide elections.  In the world of professional sports, successfully wooing these fans means better TV ratings, which means increased advertising revenue, which translates to a more lucrative TV contract for the league.  Over the last decade, the lure of TV lucre has driven pigskin and puck into conflict.

Just a few years ago, the NFL schedule played out on Sundays and Monday nights, with American Thanksgiving Day and the odd Friday or Saturday game being the only exceptions.  In turn, the NHL tread lightly on Sundays and Mondays, at least during football season.  In 2006, the NFL fired the first shots of the conflict by scheduling four Thursday (not including Thanksgiving Day games) and three Saturday games during the final five weeks of the regular season.  In 2008, the league upped the number of Thursday games to six in November and December.  With the NHL locked out in the fall of 2012, the NFL expanded to thirteen Thursday night games – one per week, with the exception of the final two weeks of the season.  Though hockey’s labor dispute has been resolved, the NFL is sticking with a full slate of Thursday Night Football in an attempt to seize control of one of the NHL’s biggest nights.

With the 2013-14 schedule, the NHL is returning fire:  During the October-December period of overlap between the two leagues, the puck will drop on Sundays 49 times, a whopping 53% increase over the 32 Sunday NHL games played during the same period in 2011.  Before you chalk it up to the need to compress the schedule to fit in a three-week Olympic break in February, consider this:  When the 2009-10 schedule was compressed to accommodate the last Olympics, the NHL only played 34 Sunday games during the NFL’s regular season.

Not only has the NHL increased the quantity of Sunday games, but they’ve also entered into direct competition with the NFL in some markets.  Consider the following matchups:

  • Sunday, 6 Oct:  (NFL) Carolina @ Arizona, 4:05pm VS (NHL) Philadelphia @ Carolina 5:00pm.
  • Sunday, 13 Oct:  (NFL) Carolina @ Minnesota, 1:00pm VS (NHL) Phoenix @ Carolina 1:00pm.
  • Thursday, 24 Oct: (NFL) Carolina @ Tampa Bay, 8:25pm VS (NHL) Carolina @ Minnesota, 8:00pm.
  • Sunday, 3 Nov:  (NFL) Minnesota @ Dallas, 1:00pm VS (NHL) Dallas @ Ottawa, 1:00pm.
  • Thursday, 7 Nov:  (NFL) Washington @ Minnesota, 8:25pm VS (NHL) Minnesota @ Washington, 7:00pm.
  • Sunday, 17 Nov:  (NFL) Green Bay @ NY Giants, 8:30pm VS (NHL) Los Angeles @ NY Rangers, 7:00pm.
  • Monday, 18 Nov:  (NFL) New England @ Carolina, 8:40pm VS (NHL) Boston @ Carolina, 7:00pm.
  • Sunday, 1 Dec:  (NFL) Tampa Bay @ Carolina, 1:00pm VS (NHL) Vancouver @ Carolina, 1:00pm.
  • Thursday, 12 Dec:  (NFL) San Diego @ Denver, 8:25pm VS (NHL) Colorado @ Winnipeg, 8:00pm.

As the matchups above indicate, the NHL seems particularly comfortable taking on the NFL in North Carolina, scheduling five Hurricanes games while the Panthers are on the field.  In particular, the 18 November head-to-head of Bruins @ ‘Canes (7:00pm) and Patriots @ Panthers (8:40pm) and 7 November’s Wild @ Capitals (7:00pm) and Redskins at Vikings (8:25pm) are intriguing.  The NHL will undoubtedly take a very close look at their regional TV ratings on those nights.

In addition, NBCSN is dropping the gloves with rival ESPN by broadcasting nine hockey games during Monday Night Football.  It’s no coincidence that 14 of 18 teams in those NBCSN games are located in NFL markets.  In a direct challenge to the NFL, NBC/NBCSN will televise two games – Boston at Chicago(3:00pm) and Washington at NY Rangers (7:30pm) – on Sunday, 19 January, the same day as football’s NFC and AFC Championship games.  In Naval parlance, that’s a “shot across the bow”.

While the National Hockey League isn’t jumping onto the football field with both skates just yet, the 2013-14 schedule indicates the league’s willingness to defend their (Thursday) turf while chipping away at the NFL’s Sunday/Monday hegemony.  If the season ahead is any indication, the NHL’s “cold war” with the NFL is indeed heating up.

Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter:  @BigTex1926


About Matt Pryor

Freelance writer of hockey, history and travel. Born and raised in Texas. Saw first hockey game 22 FEB 1980 (USA 4, USSR 3), was instantly hooked. Attended first NHL game 26 DEC 1981 (Colorado Rockies 6, Calgary Flames 3). Semi-retired beer league player. Shoots left.


10 thoughts on “NHL vs. NFL: Is the “Cold War” Heating Up?

  1. Could it just merely be coincidental? Surely the NHL doesn’t actually think that they can compete with the NFL, night-in and night-out, right?

    Dan Poser

    Posted by brett welker | September 20, 2013, 13:00
    • The NHL scheduling is no coincidence. The 2013 NFL schedule was released back on 16 April, while the NHL’s didn’t come out until 19 July. If they wanted to avoid scheduling conflicts with the NFL, they had plenty of time to do so (they were working on the sked up until the last minute, as it was dependent upon reaching an agreement to send players to the Olympics). That said, I don’t believe hockey is trying to go toe-to-toe with football. Their strategy seems geared toward siphoning off as many crossover fans as possible on select dates. For example, the MNF game on 14 October is Indianapolis @ San Diego – two non-NHL markets. That same night, NBCSN is airing (NHL) Minnesota @ Buffalo. If you’re a crossover fan in Minnesota or Buffalo, which game are you going to watch? The direct challenges, i.e., the NY Rangers playing at home at the same time as a Giants home game, can probably be classified as “test marketing” by the NHL.

      Thanks for your comment, and thanks for reading!

      Posted by Matt Pryor | September 20, 2013, 17:10


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