I became a little obsessed with this subject a year ago, when it seemed like the Wild and Timberwolves were playing on the same night an awful lot. By Dec. 15, it had already happened 13 times — and I wrote about the TV impact.
For the entire 2015-16 season, it happened 33 times — including seven shared home dates. That was a lot by comparison to 2014-15, when the teams only played on the same date 24 times.
It turns out we hadn’t seen anything yet. With the release of the Wolves’ schedule Thursday, I was curious to see the overlap this year. And, well, it’s pretty staggering.
The Wolves and Wild play on the same date a whopping 41 times this season — half of the 82-game schedule for both teams. Included in that are 14 shared home dates, meaning they will be in direct competition with one another during more than one-third of their home dates.
There’s a particularly comical/sad stretch on Feb. 8, 10, 12 and 14 when both the Wild and Wolves have four consecutive home games, all on the same dates. They’re even both playing in the afternoon on the 12th. The other 10 home dates in common: Nov. 1, Nov. 15, Nov. 17, Dec. 9, Dec. 11, Dec. 17, Jan. 22, Jan. 26, March 21 and March 30.
Here is a heat map of the whole schedule, including overlapping dates, courtesy of the Star Tribune’s Matt DeLong and Jeff Hargarten, who are gurus at things like this. This gives you a better understanding of which days of the week it’s happening the most (click to enlarge).
Now: It’s debatable how relevant this is since the crossover audience for these teams is not huge. There are some folks — such as myself — who pay keen attention to both. There are others who at least follow both casually. But overall, the NBA and NHL audiences are fairly different.
Still, it will create those feast-or-famine TV viewing nights I wrote about last year, when it’s often both or neither playing. And I can’t imagine it thrills either organization to have to go head-to-head 14 times for the ever-stretched dollar of the local sports fan — particularly in a year when both teams have a chance to be intriguing and possibly even playoff contenders.
A larger question: why did this happen?
Some of this can be explained by the Twin Cities being in the minority when it comes to having NBA and NHL teams in different arenas. There are 15 markets that have franchises in both leagues.
Of those, the arena is shared in 10 markets: New York, Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Toronto, Chicago, Denver, Dallas and Los Angeles.
In the other five metro area markets, it is not: In Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, Bay Area, Detroit and Miami the NBA and NHL teams play in different buildings.
Leagues make the schedules, with input from teams and a ton of other factors in play. When teams don’t share a building, that makes it possible to play on the same night at the same time at home, with far fewer date restrictions. Sure, both Xcel Energy Center and Target Center hold concerts, high school tournaments and other events during the NHL/NBA seasons, but neither is dealing off the bat with 41 conflicts with another team’s league’s home games.
When teams share a building, they obviously can’t have a home game on the same night (though they can occasionally play an afternoon game and a night game on the same date at home. Boston, for instance, is doing that twice this year — Nov. 25 and Jan. 16, with a 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. start scheduled for the Celtics/Bruins and Bruins/Celtics, respectively). Boston can, of course, have plenty of games on the same date with one or both on the road.
I took a random look at one shared arena market — I picked Boston — to see how much schedule overlap there was, as well as another non-shared market — I picked Detroit — to get some comparisons to MSP.
In Boston, where the Bruins and Celtics play at TD Garden, they have 32 shared dates — including just those two aforementioned shared afternoon/night home dates.
In Detroit, the Pistons (in the Palace of Auburn Hills) and the Red Wings (at Joe Louis Arena) have 34 shared dates — but just six of them involve home games on the same night.
Another factor this season: The NHL season starts later this year than it has in the past. As recently as 2013-14, the first regular-season game was Oct. 1. Last year it was Oct. 7. This year, it’s not until Oct. 12. Since the NBA doesn’t start until late October, the earlier the NHL starts, the fewer games it can have in conflict with the NBA — and the later it starts, the more it will have because there is more overlap.
Looking at those Detroit numbers and the late NHL start, perhaps the Wild and Wolves just got a little unlucky this season and this will prove to be an outlier in relation to future years.
Regardless, it’s quite a jump to go from 24 to 33 to 41 shared dates in the span of two years. It’s hardly the end of the world, but it’s also not something that figures to make teams, TV partners or fans happy.