Officially it’s dubbed the Discovery NHL Thanksgiving Showdown, but the “Black Friday Battle,” “Tryptophan Tussle,” or “Post-Turkey Day Tango” might also be appropriate monikers.
Whichever way, the NHL and NBC are again looking to break through traditions and strike viewer gold for the second time this century with a new marquee, holiday puck franchise.
With the New York Rangers set to skate against the Philadelphia Flyers in the fifth Bridgestone Winter Classic on Jan. 2, NBC and the NHL will raise the curtain Friday on the Thanksgiving Showdown at 1 p.m., when the Detroit Red Wings visit the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, which have played a matinee the day after Turkey Day since 1990. In taking that local tradition national, the game benefits from being the only contest between the Original Six teams this season and marks the NHL’s earliest national regular-season broadcast in more than 20 years.
As is the case with the Winter Classic, which provides an alternative to the New Year’s Day lineup of college football bowl fare (this year, Jan. 1 falls on a Sunday, so the NFL will ring in 2012), the NHL and NBC are now looking to establish a skate-hold against Black Friday mall excursions and food coma hangovers from Thanksgiving.
While everybody steps off the scale and vows not to eat another turkey leg until Christmas, the Thanksgiving Showdown will vie for sports fans’ attention with The Walt Disney Co.’s lineup of ESPN2’s Big East college football match-up between Louisville and South Florida at 11 a.m.; ESPNU’s coverage of Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois at the same time; and ABC’s presentation of Iowa-Nebraska (noon) and BC-Miami (3:30 p.m.). For those who prefer college hoops, ESPN and CBS Sports Network have the Old Spice Classic and Cancun Challenge, respectively, with both tourneys’ action tipping at noon.
As such, the Friday afternoon competition is not fierce — save for that little encounter in Death Valley, where No. 1 LSU hosts No. 3 Arkansas in an SEC West and BCS bayou showdown at 2:30 p.m.
But LSU-Arkansas won’t have nearly that import every year, so the Discovery NHL Thanksgiving Showdown has a shot to become another tent pole event for Gary Betmann, John Collins (the NHL COO is the architect of the Winter Classic), Mark Lazarus and Jon Litner in the first year of NBC and NBC Sports Network’s (rebranding from Versus after Bob Costas throws from the outdoor game on Jan. 2) 10-season, $1.9 billion media rights deal with the league.
The NHL might have assisted the Showdown’s inaugural Nielsen skate with a shorter schedule on Nov. 25. While the league doesn’t play on Thanksgiving, it has 13 contests slated for Friday, meaning core fans having plenty of places to sate their puck appetite elsewhere.
As for casual viewers, the Thanksgiving Showdown doesn’t sport the outdoor allure, or potential for snow or inclement weather, of the Winter Classic. TD Garden may be the more appropriate setting, but it lacks the novelty of the pros skating at Citizens Bank Ballpark.