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Positives for NHL with inside access for HBO's '24/7'

by Mike G. Morreale /
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman isn't overly concerned with the fact HBO Sports is about to take an unprecedented regular-season inside look at two of his top-end franchises -- the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals -- leading up to the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

That's the case even though there's always that chance of a slight slip of the tongue at the most inopportune time.

During a media conference call Thursday afternoon with the commissioner, NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins and HBO President Ross Greenburg, the topic of "salty language" was raised.

When Washington captain Alex Ovechkin was asked earlier in the day if he'd consider censoring himself at any time during the month-long taping for the four-part series, he laughed.

"If I say some bad words, it's going to be Russian words, so you guys don't understand it," Ovechkin said to reporters.

"As you see in any sporting event, there is, occasionally, language that's a little more mature than what you might hear on Saturday morning programming for children. But we'll see what develops, and my guess is, before we get the first show in, we'll see what we have."
-- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman

Bettman feels the positives greatly outweigh the negatives in this instance.

"The standards are different than a normal broadcast, but I believe that when people get an inside look at what goes on with our game, they'll see something that's very positive," Bettman said. "If this is going to be authentic, it needs to be authentic and guys aren't going to be scripted. As you see in any sporting event, there is, occasionally, language that's a little more mature than what you might hear on Saturday morning programming for children. But we'll see what develops, and my guess is, before we get the first show in, we'll see what we have. There will be the appropriate reviewing and critiquing to who should be watching it."

Greenburg, of course, is all too familiar with reality television. He knows it's only inevitable that on occasion, viewers will be subjected to inappropriate language.

"Hockey players never curse," said a stern-faced Matt Bradley of the Capitals.

We'll find out pretty soon.

"Any strategic meetings that the teams don't want us taping, for competitive reasons, we'll abide by their wishes and not shoot," Greenburg said. "But for the most part, HBO maintains editorial control, and once we get beyond competitive, strategic issues, we'll decide what goes on the air."

"I'd like to say to the American people, though, that people curse in daily lives," Greenburg continued. "I know certain people don't, and I respect that, but there will always be some that do. If we're going to be reality television, we're going to have to show some of that. But we'll never do it for shock value, and it'll only be included if it's part of the fabric of the goings-on during the shooting of the series."

Because HBO will be shooting not only within the locker rooms of each team but also during game situations, the risk of a player blurting out an obscenity (or two) is a possibility.

"Every so often you might hear a little salty language with a Canadian or Russian flair to it, but at the end of the day, this is all about showcasing NHL hockey in its grandest form, ending up at the Winter Classic at Heinz Field," Greenburg said.

The timing of the series couldn't be any better. The League generated record television ratings during the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, saw triple-digit increases across its digital platforms and experienced a 66-percent increase in advertising and sponsorship revenue.

"When we selected Washington and Pittsburgh for the Winter Classic, we didn't know we'd be doing this (with HBO)," Bettman said. "This collaboration was an outgrowth of the screening done on HBO's 'Broad Street Bullies' program and we were very pleased how that went.

"The strength of last season, the strength of the matchup for the Winter Classic and the strength of the Winter Classic as a property in only three short years all went into the thinking that this would be a real good thing."

The commissioner also was quick to point out that, in addition to the Capitals and Penguins, a third team also will play a vital role in the broadcast.

"That's the NHL crew responsible for converting Heinz Field into a hockey rink," Bettman said. "Some footage of the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off the field and the ice hockey crew (headed by NHL Facilities Operation Manager Dan Craig) immediately going on to begin the conversion that has to be done in record time (might also be telecast)."

Said Collins: "We're reaching far beyond the world of hockey fans and sports fans. HBO is a premier entertainment platform, and they've proven their ability to tell fantastic stories and get those stories out to the world. This is a special opportunity and something hockey fans deserve -- and they're going to love it."

Pittsburgh General Manager Ray Shero can't wait for taping to commence.

"For any of our players ... if you said you have a chance to be on HBO, how great is that," Shero said. "This is good stuff and it'll not only help promote our sport, but the beauty of hockey and the personalities involved. Everyone's going to enjoy it."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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