HBO Hopes There's an Audience for Hockey

Fresh off success of “Hard Knocks,” network makes NHL focus of latest “24/7” reality series

Emboldened by the success of its “Hard Knocks” NFL training camp show and Emmy Award-winning “24/7” franchise, HBO is set to premiere its latest reality series with a new sport as its focus: hockey.

The four-episode “24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic,” which premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. (ET), follows the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals during the three weeks leading up to the NHL Winter Classic — the annual outdoor game scheduled to take place on Jan. 1 at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field and broadcast live on NBC.

Liev Schreiber returns from "Hard Knocks" for narrator duty.

Unlike “Hard Knocks,” this show marks the first time HBO has followed a professional sports team during the season. And according to HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg, the production costs and resources devoted to “24/7 Penguins/Capitals” are virtually identical to “Hard Knocks”: six cameras, 500 hours of footage, with a team of 20 working 25 consecutive days to assemble the show.

But is there an American audience for hockey?

Greenburg thinks so. “I think what we’re proving is that showing a side of a professional sport that’s never been seen before — that’s fascinating to the average fan,” Greenburg told TheWrap. “Boxing is off the front page,” yet HBO found success by showcasing “familiar fighters through storytelling,” beginning in 2007 with “De La Hoya/Mayweather 24/7" — not to mention the record audience the Nov. 13 Manny Pacquiao fight drew for HBO on pay-per-view.

HBO is hoping that viewers gravitate to the marquee-value of Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin for a few weeks. And they're hoping to market the show largely via word-of-mouth: Greenburg said there won't be a lot of cross-promotion between NBC and HBO, if any, but the NHL is helping out, promoting the show online.

Still … hockey?

“We’ve got the Penguins-Capitals, Crosby-Ovechkin, and unrestricted access to two cities and teams that hate each other,” Greenburg said.

What more could a sports fan want?