MSG Network is about to go into the double bonus.
The regional sports network, for the first time since the 1996-97 campaign, will have both of its featured clubs, the NBA's New York Knicks and the NHL New York Rangers, participating in their circuit's respective postseasons.
The playoff pushes -- the Rangers face off against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center April 13 on sister network MSG Plus, while the new-look Knicks start their postseason run against their old rival the Boston Celtics on
April 17- -mean extra game telecasts and news programming around the clubs on MSG Network.
"It's the culmination for a lot of milestones at the network over the last 12 months," said Dan Ronayne, executive vice president and general manager of MSG Networks.
Indeed, both MSGN and MSG Plus added live morning show simulcasts of sports radio shows that supplanted news, game encores and archival programming.
"Boomer & Carton give us 20 live hours per week. They're funny, have their pulse on the New York sports scene and pop culture, and have a great rapport," said Ronayne of Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton's program, which began running on the RSN last September, "The show has been a real vibrant addition for us."
Meanwhile, MSG Plus in January picked up The Dan Patrick Show. Ronayne said that with the show based in Stamford, Conn., it still offers a "unique national perspective on sports, but has evolved to more of a New York- orientation. It's the best one-two punch in New York."
Later this month, the networks will reschedule these shows with Boomer & Carton airing from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on the flagship, while The Dan Patrick Show will run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on MSG Plus "That will give us seven straight hours of live programming, which we'll cross-promote and look to move viewers from one channel to the next," said Ronayne.
Over the course of the past year, MSGN also huddled with the New York Giants, adding five programs centering around Big Blue, three on Sunday mornings, plus a live press conference with coach Tom Coughlin on Tuesday afternoons and then a repackaged version later that night. Add it all up and that makes MSG the official regional sports network of the New York Giants, according to Ronayne, a mantle that serves as counterpoint to fellow Big Apple RSN SNY, which boasts that sobriquet for the New York Jets.
Speaking of place to house hardware, MSG and MSG Plus combined on 15 New York Emmys. MSGN's dozen was the most for any area service and the network leads the trophy pack overall over the past four years, according to officials.
"We're very proud. It's quite an accomplishment here in the New York area and speaks to the talent and dedication of our staff," said Ronayne.
Elsewhere, MSGN in March sounded some high notes with eight days' worth of taped concerts by the Allman Brothers Band -- one of MSG executive chairman and Cablevision CEO James Dolan's favorite acts. The programming strand reached its crescendo with the RSN's first live music telecast ever, the group's March 14 performance from the Beacon Theatre.
Music will again be part of MSGN's mix during the warmer months ahead as the network gears up for its third annual "Summer Block Party" programming strategy, featuring team, film and music-themed nights. In the past, Fridays have served as the platform for concerts recorded inside the venue.
In addition, MSGN recently renewed its rights deal with Major League Soccer's New York Red Bulls. The Thierry Henry-led side will have its Saturday night games premiere on MSG, with its other matches scheduled for MSG Plus. "We'll have 24 games. It's an important part of our summer programming," said Ronayne.
MSG no longer carries Major League Baseball games with the New York Yankees and Mets appearing on YES and SNY, respectively.
As for the business at hand, postseason coverage of the Rangers and Knicks will be augmented by some familiar and famous faces at MSG's new state-of-the-art HD studios, located across the street from the "World's Most Famous Arena."
"We're bringing back Mike Keenan and Brian Leetch. I think they share something in common," said Ronayne of the Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup winning coach and the Hall of Fame defenseman, the only American winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. Another Blueshirt favorite Ron Duguay, a regular analyst on Hockey Night Live, also will join host Al Trautwig. MSGN will telecast an exclusive hour-long postgame show for every first-round playoff game, including contests not originating on the network Trautwig, Keenan, Leetch and Duguay will also take part in pre-game shows, spanning 60 minutes for home games and 30 minutes when the team is on the road.
Similarly, Knicks legends , Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, who teamed with analyst Walt "Clyde" Frazier to lead the orange and blue to their second NBA crown in 1973, and Brooklyn's own Bernard King will team with Trautwig and contributing reporter Kelly Tripucka for expansive pre- and postgame coverage.
"We were working on this over the last month," said Ronayne. "We had a good plan that we hoped would come to fruition. I think we have excellent groups. Our talent is energized."
As for the Rangers-Capitals series itself, MSGN, depending on the length, could televise four or five contests. The cablecasts figure to improve upon the club's regular-season ratings performance: a 0.78 household average in the New York DMA, down 15% from a 0.92 during the 2009-10 season. (Up north, the Nielsen fervor is higher for the Buffalo Sabres, who meet the Philadelphia Flyers in the opening round, starting on April 14. Several Sabres games on MSGN skated north of 10 household rating in the Buffalo DMA during the 2010-11 campaign.)
The Rangers took three out of four from the Capitals this past season, after squandering a three games to one lead to Alexander "The Great" Ovechkin and company in the 2009 playoffs.
"The Rangers and Capitals have developed a good rivalry," said Ronayne. "I know the team's fans and our viewers are excited."
As for the Knicks, the team's fortunes on the court, starting with the free-agent acquisition of Amar'e Stoudemire last off-season, have rebounded after a seven-year absence from the playoff picture. The mid-season trade for Carmelo Anthony, a Brooklyn native, and Chauncey Billups, secured the postseason berth and raised fan expectations in the process.
MSGN's pro hoops ratings went along for the ride. Already on the climb, Knicks Nielsen's spiked with Anthony's arrival, netting a 6.7 household rating for his Feb. 23 debut against Milwaukee, the best since Michael Jordan dropped his famed "double nickel" on the Knicks back on March 28, 1995.
Through 76 games, the Knicks averaged a 1.83 household rating in the New York DMA, up 95% from a 0.94 for the 2009-10 season. The leap was even higher among young men as Knicks telecasts scored a 2.34 mark among males 18 to 34, a 169% advance from a 0.87 average with the demo last season.
Ronayne is looking forward to seeing both teams perform -- hopefully for several weeks into the spring.
"I think it's a case of rising tides lifting all boats. We thought both teams would end up in the playoffs because there was good talent and plans in place," said Ronayne. "The network has loyal advertisers and fans and having playoff audiences are an added bonus for everybody."