Liam McHugh is familiar with the rigors of hosting studio shows during the Stanley Cup playoffs, especially on nights when games go to many overtimes on the West Coast.
McHugh is in for some relief this season. With Turner Sports and ESPN reaching the playoffs after 16 years, he won’t be nearly every night as he was on NBC and NBCSN. TNT and TBS get their first games on a Thursday when ESPN and ESPN 2 do the first three nights of the postseason.
“It would be weird not to be on all the time. I would say that I think there is something good about recharging your battery, taking a day or two to walk away from it, observe it as an observer and then who Come back anew based on what you saw,” McHugh said. “Because it becomes Groundhog Day. Sometimes you don’t know what day of the week it is, and it feels like you’re talking about the same story over and over again. So it would probably be a good thing for everyone to be on the air.”
turner is hopeful keep up the pace From a successful regular season to the playoffs. Its games, mainly on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons, averaged 361,000 spectators. This is an increase of 29% over the previous year on NBCSN (280,000) and 24% over 2019-20 (292,000).
Overall, regular-season games on TNT, ABC and ESPN averaged 460,000, up 18% from the previous year (391,000) and 15% versus 2019-20 (398,000).
“More people are consuming the game. We’re at a point where people want what they want when they want it, how they want it, and that’s what we’re delivering,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bateman. said in an interview with The Associated Press. “What was the basis of our new media deals in the US was because we believed – without biting and too much – we wanted our game to be accessed in more places but easier to find.”
Four Playoff Games on ESPN and ESPN2 Monday’s opening day posted strong numbers: they averaged 576,000 spectators, a 17% increase from 2019, the last time the playoffs were played in a traditional format. The Boston–Carolina game on ESPN (857,000) was the most-watched Game 1 of a first-round series on cable in 20 years.
TNT and TBS will broadcast up to 49 playoff games. Turner Sports and ESPN will split into a first and second round each with a conference final. The Stanley Cup Finals will air this year on ABC and next season on TNT.
While ESPN still had a core group with hockey experience when it acquired the NHL rights last year, Turner started from scratch. Most came from NBC — like McHugh and the top announcer team of Kenny Albert, Ed Olsky and Keith Jones — but there have been some new faces.
The biggest change between Turner and NBCSN has been the studio show. McHugh and Anson Carter worked together at NBC, while Wayne Gretzky, paul bissonnet And Rick Touchett was new to TV. Gretzky would be a more frequent presence in the studio during the playoffs.
“At NBC, we’ve always had this creative side, this fun side, but I think Turner really takes it to another level,” said producer David Gibson.
McHugh’s biggest question was how Gretzky would adjust to doing television for the first time. He “The Great One” has embraced it.
“You still want to hear everything he has to say about hockey, but he’s also the guy who can chirp and yell at the other guys at the desk,” McHugh said. “Because of that, it’s like there are four or five people watching hockey, really enjoying it, but also giving you some good analysis along the way. It definitely exceeded my expectations.”
Albert said that he noticed an instant chemistry from everyone in the studio when they walked over to him during intermission.
“There’s a lot of conversation, and everyone has fun with it,” he said. “That’s probably one of the biggest differences, this year in the studio just for entertainment and the back and forth that we’ve been able to do both during and after the game.”
McHugh will face two challenges during the playoffs – explaining to the audience that some West Coast games will start on TruTV and HLN when the first game doesn’t end, and preparing Gretzky, Bissonnet, and Touchett for studio segments during the marathon games. .
“We’re leaving until late at night, and they’re going to experience the joy of a late game outside of the West, and we’re headed for quadruple overtime. And it’s two o’clock now. So have another cup of coffee because you have You should have the same energy that you had seven hours ago when we came on the air because the audience doesn’t expect you to look tired,” McHugh said. “I guess I look forward to those moments. Because in the end that’s what you remember.”