Many years and many technological advances have passed, with the sport seemingly no closer to widespread interest and high ratings in this country than it was in 1966, when NBC became the first U.S. network to broadcast a NHL playoff game. The league and the network believe that will change. Why does NBC believe it will succeed when, most recently, Fox and ABC have failed? Because those involved think the game is better, and that they can show it in a more interesting way. NBC bases its coverage from its Rockefeller Center studios and will have a rink set up to illustrate points made by its commentators. The names will be familiar, as broadcast veterans Bill Clement, John Davidson, Mike Emrick and Pierre McGuire are aboard, plus former players Ray Ferraro and Cammi Granato. “There’s no glowing pucks or glowing helmets or glowing goal posts, but what there’s going to be is passionate hockey conversation,” said Sam Flood, producer of the NHL on NBC broadcasts. “We’re not reinventing the wheel. What we are doing is showing a great game in a new light.” The changes won’t be monumental, although NBC hopes that high-definition broadcasts will revitalize the way games are seen. The network is hoping that the on-ice microphones and its up-close correspondents will provide insight during the game that will pique the interest of viewers. Look also for a greater focus on individual players. The NHL came under some criticism after the lockout for its advertising campaign, which featured an actor dressed as a player as the league chose to spotlight the game itself rather than some of its personalities in its marketing efforts. That’s not to say that every intermission will feature the type of tear-jerking vignettes that NBC made famous in its Olympic coverage, but NBC wants viewers to get more familiar with the players. “There are so many wonderful examples of personality on the ice,” Clement said. “Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby have given us a platform to reintroduce people to the personalities of the sport.” Bettman said NBC’s personality-driven coverage isn’t a change in philosophy as much as it’s a reflection of the “new NHL” and cooperation from players who will allow things such as on-ice microphones. “We’re going to have more and better access, both in terms of the cooperation we’re getting from the players and the opportunities we’re going to afford the media to get closer to the game,” Bettman said. But will it be enough? Will people watch? And does it matter? Despite conservative projections, league revenues now are expected to exceed $2.1 billion this season and possibly exceed numbers from the pre-lockout 2003-04 season. And that’s without a broadcast television deal, since NBC is paying the league nothing to broadcast the games this season. With pundits praising the style of play under the new rules and the league on pace for an overall attendance record, some might question the importance of television. Even Bettman said, “Anything we can do incrementally on television will be a plus,” given the league’s current economic health. Perhaps it matters more to the players, since their salary cap is tied to league revenues, and a big network contract would be a boom for them. Kings forward Jeremy Roenick, critical of the league’s past television dealings, said NBC’s plans sounded good but that the league should go further. “They should let cameras and microphones go everywhere,” Roenick said. “On the ice, on the bench, in the dressing room, everywhere. The more people can see, the better. “The goalie cam sounds nice, but they should put a camera on the referee, or cameras players. Put a camera on a guy who is crossing the blue line and is about to get hit and have his head taken off. “There’s a lot they can do. Be interactive, on the Internet or whatever. Pick a fan, and if they correctly guess who scores a power-play goal or something like that, they win game tickets, or plane tickets or something. Be interactive and give people a reason to want to watch.” Rich Hammond, (818) 713-3611 rich.hammon[email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGift Box shows no rust in San Antonio Stakes win at Santa Anita That means spotlighting players similar to the way NBC does in its Olympic broadcasts. It means players wearing microphones. It means a hockey version of sideline reporters, and a “goalie cam.” “I believe the things that go into making a successful broadcast are things that NBC will try to do,” commissioner Gary Bettman said. “This sport can’t be broadcast on a cookie-cutter basis. We needed an opportunity for broadcasters to look at new and innovative ways to get people closer to the game. “Is it going to make a difference this Saturday, where all of a sudden people look at it and say, ‘Holy cow, they fixed it’? Of course not. This is a process that is going to take some time and this is a journey that we’re delighted to be beginning with NBC.” The marriage of hockey and television has always been a tenuous one. After a decade of poor ratings, ESPN declined its option to televise the NHL this year after the league returned from its lockout. Little-known cable outlet OLN entered the picture with a two-year, $135-million deal, but has averaged a miniscule 0.2 rating. Then there’s NBC, which paid no rights fees to broadcast games on six Saturdays during the regular season plus coverage throughout the later rounds of the playoffs. No, the puck won’t be glowing. But the game will be up close and personal. NBC embarks on a venture today – showing NHL games on network television – that for years has mostly proved to be a fruitless and frustrating venture for its broadcasting brethren in the United States.