The Blues will be in the playoffs for only the second time in eight seasons when the Stanley Cup tournament begins next week and the way it is being televised will be unlike ever before.
NBC and its cable branches, NBC Sports Network and CNBC — along with NHL Network — will combine to show all games live nationally in the United States, something that never has happened before. That's the result of the 10-year deal NHL entered last spring with the NBC Sports Group, an arrangement in which the league gets no traditional rights fee and instead the organizations share expenses and revenues.
In the past locally produced telecasts had been permitted in the first two rounds, with the networks taking over after that. But part of the new deal is that local telecasts (such as Blues games on Fox Sports Midwest) now are allowed only in the first round. The national version is blacked out in the markets of the teams playing in favor of the local coverage, although there is a caveat that remains from the old deal — if NBC picks a first-round game to show over-the air (KSDK, Channel 5 here), local outlets such as FSM can't also carry the contest.
Because Fox Sports Midwest also shows many Cardinals games, it will utilize its additional channel, FSM Plus, when the Blues and baseball overlap.
And FSM general manager Jack Donovan said in those instances viewers probably will see the Blues on the main channel and baseball on the Plus outlet.
"The Cardinals recognize the importance of Blues playoff games, and we appreciate the flexibility,'' Donovan said.
No such conflicts are likely next week, because the Cardinals have a lot of day games — and if the Blues play a weekend afternoon game, it likely would be on Channel 5, but there are several overlapping situations possible the following week. (The Blues playoff schedule is to be released on Sunday.)
On radio, KMOX (1120 AM) has the local rights to the Cardinals and Blues, and stations operations manager Steve Moore said a decision has not yet been made on which broadcast would be sent to KEZK (102.5 FM) if there is overlap.
"It will be looked at on a case-by-case basis,'' Moore said.
Fox Sports Midwest's Blues telecasts, with one remaining, have been seen in an average of 3.5 percent of area homes this season, up 14 percent from FSM's previous record of 3.1 that was set last season. But that's far off figures in the 6 range the Blues drew in the late '90s when they were on over-the-air TV, something the team dropped three seasons ago.
Fox Sports Midwest begins its run today of the approximately 150 Redbirds games it will show this season, and plans to have all three men in its announcer-rotation system in the booth.
Dan McLaughlin has the play-by-play assignment, with Al Hrabosky and Rick Horton providing analysis. That lineup also is scheduled for the home opener, on April 13, but for other games it will be a two-man combination in the booth.
Today's game is set to start at 3:10 p.m. and FSM has scheduled a program at 12:30 that looks back at the team's miraculous run last September to make the playoffs, then begins its pregame programming at 2 p.m.
And the Birds already are off to a roaring start in the ratings game. The Nielsen Co. reports that their opener, on Wednesday in Miami and shown by ESPN, was seen in 15.9 percent of homes in the market with a TV. That's the second-best rating for a Cards first game in this century.
The high mark, 17.6 in 2007, was in prime time on a Sunday — traditionally the most-watched night in television — and was the home opener as the team celebrated its World Series title from the previous fall.