So it unfortunately has come to this. I do believe that NBC still might very well put up the big screen in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, and while I have a few folks in the upper parts of NBC that are pushing for this and are hopeful, we need your help.
Before I give out who to contact let me tell you why you should contact NBC, no matter where you are, be it Pittsburgh or Saskatoon.
Going back to the God forsaken lockout days, I have always tried to have one mission statement. I want this game to succeed. I care about that a ton and you can all say what you want about me, but I feel that I have shown that I am out for the best of the game. During the lockout that meant I had to constantly do things like this. For me it's simple: I may not make a difference, but I know too many people to not give it a shot.
Let me tell you what is currently happening in Pittsburgh. The crowd is young and vibrant and they are great people. I have met many folks from Pittsburgh and honestly they are a lot like folks from Buffalo. They are kind, giving, and no matter where on this earth life takes them, they will ALWAYS be from Pittsburgh.
Usually I arrive at games a few hours early, but before game four I was working the phones and finishing up a story, so I didn't actually walk over to the rink until 7:45. What I saw outside the arena. The crowd that had gathered was phenomenal. The energy was ridiculous. I saw families on blankets. I saw college kids on dates in beach chairs. I saw middle aged folks in fold up LL Bean chairs. The Chants of "Let's Go Pens" was resounding from 6 blocks away. It was the kind of moment that gave you chills. And remember I grew up HATING the Penguins.
What kept flashing into my head was the desperation that the NHL had just a few years ago during the lockout year. The Penguins were among the most in trouble at that point and as I looked through the crowd before game four you could see behind them the steel girders going up for the new building...state of the art...with 66, that's right 66 suites. As I watched little kids in Malkin jerseys and even being fed over Penguins bibs I realized to myself...We had won. Many said the NHL would never be able to survive a year off and here I was feeling so proud for our sport with my laptop in one hand and NBC's press release touting the "Highest Ratings EVER" in the other. The NHL had a huge share for games 1 and 2 on NBC, but remember that they had a 48 share, a remarkable 1 out of every 2 TVs in Pittsburgh. These fans are nuts about their Pens.
As I walked through the crowd I also remembered Tampa. The last thing I saw prior to the lockout. Stanley Cup Finals Game 7 with 20k inside and another 10k outside watching on the big screen against the St Pete's Forum. When the Lightning won that Cup it meant that years from now well over 30k could say they were there, and they would not be lying. Those kids, every one of them will become a hockey fan for life, just like I did when I attended the Flyers parade in 1975. I never let hockey out of my site since. And now I am lucky enough to be covering these types of events from the inside.
Also, outside during every event money is also raised for the Mario Lemieux Foundation through folks donating money towards a great cause. There is no alcohol served and the crowd is rowdy but controlled.
There is a myth out there that in every city the NHL has only the 20,000 fans inside the arena. This has never been proven more incorrect than it has in these playoffs.
Well, Thursday night over 8,000 people congregated outside to watch the Penguins win. Families with kids, college students, friends...Just an outstanding display. No alcohol. No violence.
This screen has been up for every home game this playoffs on Versus, and Thursday night was by far the biggest and greatest event to date.
Yesterday, four days before the Penguins could potentially clinch a Stanley Cup inside the Mellon Arena the screen was taken down. I figured that was it, but still I thought I would give it a try and see...
The word was "The screen came down because word had it that NBC would not allow the screen. They wanted people to watch from home to help the ratings." That seemed ridiculous that NBC would be that shortsighted. So I went to work calling all of my contacts at NBC.
I was finally contacted by Brian Walker who is the Senior Director of Communications at NBC Spors. Brian emailed me some hope.
"This is an NHL Policy. I would check with the league. I can't speak for the NHL so you'll have to check with them but my understanding is the league communicated this policy to the clubs for games on broadcast television prior to the start of the playoffs."
GREAT! I thought. It must not be the NHL (they allowed it for Versus) so I went to clear that up and the NHL did.
"Of course it is NBC's call."
and then later
"If it's the NHL's policy, why did Versus do it Tuesday and Thursday. Ridiculous."
So I went back to Brian and told him that NBC had a golden opportunity here to thank the NHL fans for these superb ratings and bring back the screen. I told him I would give him two days of advertising for free Hockeybuzz.com to thank the fans.
Now I get word that they are reconsidering and I am pretty confident that this misunderstanding could turn into a HUGE PR win for NBC who I feel will do the right thing...
I am getting that impression.
After all, as I said in an email to NBC earlier today:
"What is being reported is that NBC wants those 8,000 people watching their TVs at home despite the fact that Pittsburgh has a 48 share! What would look better than to show those 8-10k people outside on NBC as they watch a GIANT screen broadcasting NBC to them. I know the argument that the NHL only has the 20k fans in the arena. Let's show the world otherwise"
But at this point the answers aren't coming and we need to step it up. Moments like this are too rare to not jump on. For the sake of our game I ask that you start making some calls.
I have many phone numbers of important people at NBC and their emails, but for now, on Saturday let's start at the top.
MAKE YOURSELF PUBLICLY HEARD!
NBC comment line 212-664-2333
Jeff Zucker 212-664-4444
President NBC Entertainment
3000 West Alameda Ave.
Burbank., CA 91523
For now these are the only numbers and contacts I am putting out there in hope that it won't take anything more personal.
It's only Saturday, and trust me when I tell you that they are still listening. When you call 212-664-2014 you will hear a message that their office is closed until Tuesday. I know from someone inside that they are monitoring all messages but hoping that since they are saying they are closed until Tuesday will limit the messages.
These are our talking points.
#1. Versus allowed it. The NHL is fine with it
#2. Ratings highest ever. In Pitt it's a 48 share
#3. They are watching NBC and all the commercials on ther screen
#4. The Penguins raise money for the Mario Lemieux charities at these events.
#5. They allowed it in Tampa before.
There is a side story here as well.
A source has told me that this may have something to do with NBC being afraid that the NFL would be upset because they don't allow this. Should we be dictated by a rule that the NFL has? Isn't comparing the NFL to the NHL in TV revenues absurd?
Finally I leave you with this email... One of about 50 or so like it that I have received in the last 24 hours:
Hi my name is Nicole and I just wanted to thank you so much for everything that you are doing to get our screen back. With all of the crazy things that are going on in this world it is great to see 10,000 + people united for a common cause, and it amazes me that NBC cares more about ratings and money than they do about giving people something to believe in. I'm a student at Slippery Rock University and unfortunately cannot afford to be inside to support my team so to me having the TribTron outside makes me feel like a part of the action as it does for all of the other fans. I have met so many amazing people outside the arena and I know that I speak for all of them when I tell you that we are all very thankful for everything that you are doing to help!
MAKE YOURSELF HEARD.
I will continue to update here and on my twitter feed at twitter.com/eklund.