TNT readies for first Stanley Cup Final; first one exclusively on cable since 1994
By JOE REEDY
Turner Sports has had its share of significant sports events. The Stanley Cup Final, though, will be the first time a champion from one of North America's four major pro sports will air on TNT.
Saturday's Game 1 between the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights also marks the first time since 1994 the final will be entirely on cable.
TNT, which now falls under the Warner Brothers Discovery Sports umbrella, is in its second season covering the NHL. It also has the Stanley Cup Final in 2025 and 2027 under a seven-year rights agreement that began last season.
"We're excited, humbled and honored. We're really interested in bringing our hockey lens to the finals and creating something special for the fans," said Craig Barry, the chief content officer for WBD Sports.
TBS has carried the NCAA men's basketball championship three times, but when it comes to pro sports, TNT and TBS have only done conference finals for the NHL and NBA. TBS also has carried one of the league championship series in baseball.
Besides TNT, Warner Brothers Discovery also will have the games on TBS and truTV.
Despite being the first Stanley Cup Final on TNT, the network has a veteran crew used to doing the event. Play-by-play announcer Kenny Albert is working his 10th final (including radio), and Eddie Olczyk will be the lead analyst for the 16th time. Analyst Keith Jones is doing his 17th before leaving to take over as Philadelphia Flyers president, and Darren Pang is part of it for the 18th time.
Albert, Olczyk and Jones were part of NBC's coverage, while most of Pang's came with ESPN.
With NBC carrying the final from 2006-21, studio analyst Anson Carter admitted not being at last year's felt different.
"I just think back to last summer sitting on my couch, and I had a serious case of FOMO," he said. "I was watching those guys on the other network do their thing. And after being a part of it for over 10 years, I missed it. So this is a great opportunity for our crew to continue what we do best while putting the game up on the pedestal that it deserves to be on."
Barry noted the overall approach to doing the final remains the same compared to what they've done so far during the regular season and playoffs.
"We understand our obligation to the hardcore fan and the X's and O's. Our colleagues at ESPN do that really well. But we also understand and take our obligation to the casual fan very seriously," he said. "We love that intersection of hockey and culture and really lean into that."
Regarding ratings expectations, it is hard to say what this series might draw. Last year's six-game series between the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning averaged 4.6 million viewers on ABC, with the final two games drawing over five million.
NBCSN averaged over 3 million, including streaming, between 2017-19, when it had two games apiece on cable. However, the first two games of the 2021 Final between Tampa Bay and Montreal on NBCSN averaged 1.7 million.
TNT and TBS are averaging 1.1 million through the Eastern Conference Final, a 7% increase over last year. Those numbers are encouraging, considering Boston, the New York Rangers and Islanders, Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Colorado were all knocked out in the first round.
Game 7 of the 1994 Final, when the Rangers beat the Vancouver Canucks to win their first Stanley Cup since 1940 on ESPN and MSG Network, has the record for most cable viewers at 5.44 million.
AP NHL Playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports
Updated June 2, 2023