Rivalries start at an early age in sports, likely at the high school level in the lives of those who dream to be athletes when they grow up. You learn not only to hate your rival, but also to respect them at the same time.
There is nothing better than a rivalry match-up. Sometimes, it’s one team against another. Other times, it’s a couple of star players facing off. Think Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning.
A rivalry can be so compelling that the NBC Sports Network has dedicated its Wednesday night hockey coverage to it, calling it “RIVALRY NIGHT.”
The people in charge of these leagues are the ones who love that they don’t have to build marketing plans around these rivalry games to garner ratings. The rivalry is built in marketing for them. They don’t need to grow their audience locally, they have those fans locked and loaded (see Bruins-Canadians, Red Sox Yankees). They use that the built in rivalry to elicit national attention, to suck in the person who might not watch the game because his/her team(s) aren’t playing.
If you’re a baseball fan living in Nebraska and it’s a Sunday night in May, how do MLB and ESPN get you to watch a Red Sox Yankees match-up? They market it as the “heated” rivalry, blow it up with tons of production, sprinkle in some old highlights and make it a can’t-miss event.
All pro leagues hope and pray that there are more rivalry match-ups than not. Take for example the NFL’s scheduling of the Patriots VS. Jets on October 16th. That game will be played in primetime because of the animosity between the two franchises.
The better the match-up, the better the ratings. And it always helps if there are story lines. The most obvious, again, is Brady/Manning. Plenty of history, plenty of story lines, and oh yeah they face off again on November 2, at 4:25 p.m. for those keeping score.
And look at what is happening in the NHL playoffs. The folks who run that league couldn’t be happier. They have one of the longest standing rivalries in any sport happening right now with the Bruins/Canadians series. Not much more is necessary to sell average hockey fans on this match-up and given the way the first two games have gone, why can’t they play every night?
That is what a rivalry does, it leaves you craving more like that high school game you replay in your head every now and again, and reflect on your teams fumble or missed shot that could have put you over the top.