— NHL (@NHL) January 30, 2021
We are all waiting for the return of the WHL to on-ice action.
With that, fans eagerly await the announcement of a schedule for their divisional play. The WHL should note what the NHL is doing and use it as an example of what to avoid. For instance, yesterday, January 29, NHL fans saw only one game played, while the very next day they see 12, eight of which are set to begin at 7 pm EST.
A lack of staggering scheduled games is on full display. The frustration has set in for both members of the media and fans. While glad to have hockey being played once again, many people see just how inconsistent the NHL scheduling is.
Love the game heavy days but would also love a little balance in number of games a day. I love the baseball style schedule too https://t.co/NMYfi4k1vr
— John Easthope (@vintagejohnny84) January 30, 2021
While already unpopular at the NHL level, the move could prove disastrous if replicated in the WHL. While we are unsure of what exactly schedules will look like, we have a rough idea. With the announcement of a return to play date in Alberta came some WHL protocols on how the season will run.
In the WHL
The Western Hockey League has been granted approval to return to play in Alberta.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) January 28, 2021
Teams will only see one opponent each week and have five days between different opponents. The WHL has said that the Central Division games will be taking place on weekends. With limited days of the week to schedule games, we now have to look at times. Of the 5 teams located in Alberta, each weekend will see two games played each day. If both games are played at the same time, as the NHL is doing with many of their games, the ability for exposure and growth is diminished.
I am so excited to watch every hockey game tonight, simultaneously flipping through every game during the commercials.
— xTech (@xTechHockey) January 30, 2021
Especially as we are in the midst of a pandemic where the ability to watch a sporting event is a huge release for many people, why limit the number of people who can view each game?
It will only be more important to be aware of scheduling once the rest of the league returns as well. Should all WHL games be taking place on the weekends, there will be more of a need than ever to stagger game start times. WHL teams will be competing with each other for viewership more than ever before. Add in the NHL and the number of other games likely to be taking place simultaneously, and the league loses even more eyes per game.
A staggered schedule will help make it possible for as many people to tune in as possible.
excited to watch eight games at once at 7pm https://t.co/s3YXig2IaQ
— dom luszczyszyn (@domluszczyszyn) January 30, 2021
But are there options?
Of course, we must understand that there are only so many reasonable times available to start a game, but with the relatively common options, why is the NHL not spreading out their games a bit more? 1 pm, 4 pm, and 7 pm are the most common start times we see in the NHL. Especially on weekends, utilizing all of these times would allow fans to watch games in other markets.
Often overlooked, there is a baseline that many hockey fans are willing to watch more than just their own team. More eyes on more games is never a bad thing.
For the WHL, a mix of game times will allow people to watch teams they may not typically follow or even bring in new viewers and fans. People will be talking about games throughout more of the day, rather than all games in a short period of time. You never know when the right eye could be caught, interest piqued, and a new fan made.
To whomever creates the NHL schedule… pic.twitter.com/Wf0FoAvN2x
— Chris Roy (@C_Roy33) January 30, 2021
During a normal season, where divisional play is not the only thing taking place and schedules aren’t condensed, it is something to be wary of going forward, especially in the WHL. As we aim to grow the sport and, by all means, the league, they should want to make it possible for as many people to watch games as they happen. The simple thing is that more viewers make more fans while more fans mean leagues are more profitable. At the WHL level, ensuring a team is profitable is paramount in keeping teams around and securing the league as one of the top places for young athletes to develop.
New streaming service
With word of a new streaming service coming to the WHL this season, and games being played on weekends in the Central Division as of today, the league could find benefit in having staggered start times to get even more exposure with their new partner. Allowing as many games as possible to happen each day will possibly influence more fans to purchase a full season all-team package. There could also be the potential of selling divisional rivalry packages so that fans of a team can see their rivals face off in the hunt for the playoffs.