Questioning the NHL’s Black Friday Strategy
By Gilles Moncour
Tonight I'll spend my bread, tonight
I'll lose my head, tonight
I've got to get to night
Monday I'll have Friday on my mind
Tonight — Friday night — a night with no NFL Football, no NBA action, a few minor college football games, and one baseball playoff game — seems like a good time to take in a hockey game or maybe head out to the arena. Oops... not so fast Jethro! To watch hockey tonight you’ll have to stream last year’s Caps-Golden Knights on nhl.tv, or slide in that Rangers’ 1994 Cup DVD, or perhaps find an old VCR in the basement and hope the magnetic strip on that Oilers-Flyers Game 7 Final hasn’t turned to dust. Because tonight, no games are on the schedule. A Friday Night Blackout.
This is not an anomaly. Over the past decade, NHL teams have been steadily shrinking the number of Friday games being played. This season (discounting the anomalous day after Thanksgiving) there is an average of only four games played per Friday night. Five years ago, there was an average of nearly six games per Friday night. This season, there are nine Fridays with three or fewer games, while ten years ago, there were only two such Friday nights.
I understand that Saturday is the holy grail for NHL games, with the tradition of Hockey Night in Canada and appeals to the family atmosphere for US-based teams. Not messing with that. I understand that teams don’t want to play Mondays because the walk up crowd is nill, and that limiting games on Wednesdays protects NBCSN’s top weekly game. But Fridays? Come on!
My buddies and I like to take one Friday per season and make a day of it. Half-day at the office (or, better yet, sleep in), lunch at noon, open hockey at 2, shower up, then take the train to watch the Devils at the Prudential Center, followed by a nightcap. It leaves the weekend free to ferrie the kids, hit the honey-do list, or chill with the family. Now, it’s become next to impossible to find a game. Not that I’m just crying for myself….
The proliferation of downtown arenas — not just in the major metropolitans of New York, Toronto, Boston, and Washington — but also in smaller cities like Columbus and Nashville means that for many downtown workers, Friday is the best day to meet up with a couple of friends from the office, spend some money in the city, and catch a game. For others, who tend to work an early shift, Friday is a great night to relax in front of the TV with a beer and watch the local team — or an intriguing matchup from the Center Ice package.
The thing is, I just don’t understand why the NHL needs to put an average of ten (10!) games on Thursday nights while leaving Fridays so barren. The NHL is the primary tenant in most arenas, so it’s not like they can’t clear the dates. Teams also play a plethora of back-to-backs, so an occasional Friday-Saturday to preserve the Saturday game is certainly doable. And ten years ago the schedule was much more balanced.
I haven't seen any specific comment from the NHL or the teams as to why Fridays are becoming an endangered species in the NHL. Perhaps some marketing whiz using advanced statistical analysis can give a perfectly logical explanation. Until then, the theory I’m going with is this one: the NHL is under pressure from NBC to reduce their Friday schedule so as to clear the airwaves for…. Curling Night in America on NBCSN.