The National Hockey League finals between the Los Angeles Kings and the… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Die-hard Los Angeles Kings fan Bobby Scribe hopes for a Stanley Cup victory for his beloved team in six games. But even if that happens, there will be a hole at the heart of the TV coverage, he said, because local announcer Bob Miller, the voice of the Kings for nearly four decades, won't be calling the plays.
The National Hockey League finals between the Kings and the New Jersey Devils, airing on NBC and its cable channel NBC Sports Network starting Wednesday night, have a national broadcast team that doesn't include Miller. And even though that's been the case for a number of years, Scribe and other fans still aren't happy about it.
"We've been so spoiled in L.A. with legendary sports broadcasters like Vin Scully and Chick Hearn and Bob Miller," said Scribe, who runs a popular Kings blog, Surly & Scribe, and petitioned NBC to find a spot for Hall of Fame member Miller. "We're used to a certain level of quality. If you have gourmet food all the time, it's hard to eat atMcDonald's."
That's just one of the rough, icy patches television has skidded over with some viewers as it prepares to cover the Los Angeles Kings' first appearance in the Stanley Cup finals in almost two decades.
NBC executives said there's precedent in other pro leagues like the NBA, Major League Baseball and the NFL to use national, not local, broadcasters. And they stand behind play-by-play announcer Mike "Doc" Emrick, analyst Eddie Olczyk and inside-the-glass analyst Pierre McGuire, who'll lead coverage of the first Kings appearance in the Stanley Cup contest since 1993.
"We're celebrating the game with three guys who do it better than anyone," said Sam Flood, executive producer, NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network. "This is standard procedure for a big league sport to use a national broadcast team."
Fans will be able to find Miller, but they'll have to look to his postgame analysis on Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket.
And for the games themselves, fans will need to switch back and forth between NBC and NBC Sports Network, formerly Versus, creating another bone of contention — and confusion. Games 1 and 2 will air on the broadcast network, but 3 and 4 will be on NBC Sports Network. Games 5 through 7, if they're played, will toggle back to NBC.
Longtime Kings fan June Miller Richards said she'll need to use the NBC-created "channel finder" to locate the cable network on her dial, which she dubbed "a little annoying," and indicative of hockey's stepchild status compared to other pro sports.
Jon Miller, president, programming, NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network, said executives have devoted significant amounts of promotion to point fans to the games, which have been divvied up between the network and cable channels each season for the last six years. For NBC Sports Network, the high-profile finals are a good chance to help build the young channel's brand, he said.
Whatever contentiousness fans feel about NBC's decisions, it's not keeping them away from the TV. Ratings have jumped double digits for the current hockey season across NBC and siblings NBC Sports Network, CNBC and the NHL Network. Playoff games have averaged 973,000 viewers, up 21% from the previous year, executives said.
Western Conference finals ratings, in which the Kings won in five games over the Phoenix Coyotes, were up 18% with an average 1.02 million viewers on NBC Sports Network. NBC aired Game 4, which drew 1.4 million viewers.
Strong ratings may show that the tide is turning, fans and executives said, with basketball- and baseball-happy L.A. finally embracing hockey. Sports bars from Burbank to Brentwood to downtown are prepping for an onslaught of fans, especially since the NBA season is over for both the Lakers and the Clippers.
"This town does love a winner," Miller Richards said. "And it seems like our little club of hockey fans has expanded."
Scribe, who said he welcomes the "bandwagoners," will be one of thousands of people expected to pour into restaurants and clubs at downtown's L.A. Live Wednesday when the Kings meet the Devils in Newark.
"So many hard-core fans today were too young to remember '93," Scribe said. "I'm sensing a lot of excitement."
The Kings, the eighth-seeded team in the Western Conference, weren't likely Stanley Cup contenders. It's only the second time in the franchise's history that the team will be competing for the sport's biggest prize.
That kind of renaissance brings out casual fans and Hollywood royalty, NBC execs said, though they wouldn't name celebrities who might never have set foot into a Kings game but are looking for tickets.
"It's not just the ratings, but it's the ticket requests that let us know how big of an event this is getting to be in L.A.," Miller said. "Anybody who has an NBC show all of the sudden wants to see the Kings play."