Recently, Ross Greenburg was on my radio show, ESPN 1050 “Impact.” From the standpoint of where he has been and where he is going, it was one of the best shows that we have ever had.
There are few political shows today that can seamlessly mix stories about Ground Zero with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and make everyone watching feel good, but that is what good storytellers do. However we are not talking about “60 Minutes,” we are talking about a show about hockey, which aired its second episode on EPIX last Friday night.
It is called the “Road To The NHL Outdoor Classics, ” and it tells the stories of four teams, the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, as they head towards the NHL’s two outdoor games this year, the Centennial Classic in Toronto on New Year’s Day and the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic in St. Louis om January 2. The magic is weaved by no other than Ross Greenburg, who in a storied career as a sports TV executive and producer has won an amazing 54 EMMY Awards, and nay be on his way to number 55 with this series.
“The stories come from the athletes, and it’s our job to tell these great stories to a wider audience, with the help from the teams and the NHL,” Greenburg, the former head of HBO Sports, said recently in a conversation. “The opportunity is out there to have these great stories come to life for the fans who crave them, you just need the opportunity to do it.” That opportunity was created by the NHL with EPIX, the premium entertainment network, for each of the last three years, and the results get better and better.
This week fans got to see New Jersey native Trevor van Riemsdyk, a rising Blackhawks star, take time out of a busy week in New York during a road trip for an emotional visit Ground Zero with his family, while the Toronto Maple Leafs go back to spend time with the Yousef family, Ethiopian immigrants whose house the team helped build. We also got a first look at Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel visiting the new Blackhawks training facility and talking about the impact it will have on the community, along with scores of up close thoughts and visits with players and personalities big and small. It is compelling content which goes well beyond the normal fandom.
“This type of in-depth content is really what fans want these days, and I think this will be transformative for where television will be going into the future,” Greenburg, who launched popular series like “Hard Knocks” and “24/7” while at HBO, added. “Just watching games is no longer enough. Fans want to know about the drama and the personalities, and that’s what we do with these series.”
For a league like the NHL, the access leading up to their annual outdoor games is critical, and Greenburg is the perfect storyteller to make sure that the stage is set. And for an audience today that wants to consume content anywhere, EPIX, who delivers the show every Friday night via traditional broadcast and on a host of digital platforms including mobile, is a great partner. “They don’t limit the length of the show as you would have with a broadcast network, and the result is great, unvarnished storytelling,” Greenburg added.
Does this work for any sport? “It can with the right timing and access, but the NHL has really grasped and embraced the value.” The Westchester, NY resident and Brown University graduate added. “The players and teams really make it work.”
For fans of hockey, or just great stories, “The Road To The Outdoor Classics” is must see TV made even better by the mad who created the sports reality genre. Maybe they can make it work with baseball as well