Counting Down To When The NHL Gets Back On ESPN's Airwaves

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I think this is one of the shrewdest moves that ESPN has ever pulled off. After the strike Hockey was almost a worthless entity. Versus has tried and failed to revive the Sport and NBC took a shot as well. Now that the short contract is up for NBC they have the decision of using games as a lead up to the Olympics or dropping the broadcast entirely due to the ratings.

ESPN is in the perfect position to pick up the NHL at a good price and ultimately could bring the league back from obscurity. Via Globe and Mail...

Losing NBC, a network broadcaster, would be a setback for the NHL. But a resumption of its relationship with ESPN, after a four-year estrangement, would be a boost.

With ESPN involved, the league would receive wider exposure on cable television and also get more air time on SportsCenter.

Without NBC, the NHL would revert to being a cable TV league, but one small benefit would be avoiding media scrutiny of embarrassingly low broadcast ratings. Cable ratings are not as closely monitored as those on network television.

An ESPN deal with the NHL would probably consist of ESPN2 airing regular-season and playoff games, with ESPN coming in for a share of the Stanley Cup final, assuming NBC decided to pull out. However, for ESPN to return to hockey, consent would be needed from Versus, which owns exclusive NHL cable rights in the United States.
Everyone seems to think that a deal with ESPN has already been done and will be announced in the next few weeks, but NBC's deal with the NHL really doesn't cost them anything at all and they have the final say. It's a bunch of tough decisions for a league in flux, but I if they have the choice heading back to ESPN would be the way to go. Not for the ratings but for the exposure and the content that would be added to all of ESPN's outlets.

NHL's U.S. television future remains unclear (Globe and Mail)

Posted by Awful Announcing- at 1:15 PM


Maybe, as a hockey fan, I've been down so long the gutter looks like up, but I have no faith in ESPN. None at all. It's this assertion in the Globe and Mail column that set me off:

With ESPN involved, the league would [...] get more air time on SportsCenter.

Really? Because ESPN could do that now. And NHL 2Night was outright canceled at the end of the 2003-04 season. Even if the Lockout hadn't happened, and ESPN had renewed their NHL rights, they weren't going to have a nightly highlight/analysis show.

I have no reason to believe that the "world wide leader" wants to truly support the NHL. They'll just throw some games on ESPN2 on Wednesday and Thursday nights, continue to bury the highlights on SportsCenter, let the screaming heads on PTI, First Take, and Around The Horn keep on trashing the league, do nothing to promote the games or improve the ratings, and use it all as justification to banish the league back to Versus again at the end of the contract.

Or am I being too cynical?

Feb 13, 2008, 2:05:00 PM  

Not cynical if it's pretty much dead-on. Versus at least tries with its hockey coverage; ESPN would likely go back to sticking NHL on Friday nights with minimal promotion in order to save primo timeslots for World Series of Poker and the 11th rerun of Sportscenter.

Kyle said...
Feb 13, 2008, 2:10:00 PM  

It would be relegated to ESPN2 more than likely, in the fall taking a back seat to college and pro football, in the winter to college basketball and the

I wish there were some competition but there realistically isn't

Jeff Hawkins said...
Feb 13, 2008, 2:32:00 PM  

living in FSN Pittsburgh's broadcast area, i dont give a shit. if anything espn picking up the nhl would mean i would get less penguins games on the network that knows them best. i HATE losing pens games to versus, primarily because i have to goto a bar to watch the games, but also their announcing team is downright shitty.
hockey isnt going to go under if they stay with versus. the vast majority of nhl games are shown on regional networks and frankly i would prefer it stay that way.

Mike Georger said...
Feb 13, 2008, 2:33:00 PM  

put it this way. hockey does great in person. nine teams in the league have average home attendance capacity of over 100 percent (standing room), nine others have between 90 and 100 percent, and only four have lower than 80 percent. those four are columbus (bettman never should have given them a team), florida (ditto), chicago (fans hate the ownership + shitty fans), washington (worst fans in hockey)
for a league that the hilarious internet people constantly say noone cares about, they draw VERY well.
the nhl's attendance is better than the nba, and espn shoves that shit down everyones throat. also consider that the salary cap was raised this season and hopefully will be next year, a dying league doesnt do that

hockey doesnt need espn, if anything they will make it worse

Mike Georger said...
Feb 13, 2008, 2:43:00 PM  

Every time a hockey highlight comes on, I turn the channel. If the WWL was to get the NHL again, they'd try to redevelop at as a national brand again which it, sadly, isn't anymore. The NHL is a great in-game experience but is without a doubt one of the worst things to ever see on television. Stay with the regional programming idea and screw what ESPN is offering you.

Feb 13, 2008, 3:12:00 PM  

Hockey sucks big, black cock.

Anonymous said...
Feb 13, 2008, 3:38:00 PM  

Narrator, you're missing two things:

1) How much better hockey presents in HD. Thanks to the death of my crappy old home office TV, I now have a 20" 720p flat panel with an over-the-air tuner, and NBC games look awesome. It completely destroys the old "I can't see the puck" excuse.

2) How many influential sports writers worship A.C. Nielsen. The best way to shut up Kornheiser, Bayless, and their cronies is to succeed in spite of their constant negativity towards hockey. The only way that's going to happen is for the NHL's ratings to improve. So it's either crawl back to ESPN, as loathsome as that prospect is, or hope against hope that Versus can get a national NBA, MLB, or NFL contract, and the credibility that comes with it.

Feb 13, 2008, 3:58:00 PM  

versus' ratings are up from last season and they arent too far off what the league was pulling on espn before the contract ended there

Mike Georger said...
Feb 13, 2008, 4:02:00 PM  

Well anonymous, that was certainly eloquent. Thanks for the intelligent contribution to the discussion.

Kyle said...
Feb 13, 2008, 4:18:00 PM  

As a Canadian who hates hockey and has american satellite to watch ESPN so I dont have to see hockey highlites ... this sucks !! Why would ESPN spend money on something nobody in the states want to watch

Lets hope ESPN doesn't go through with this

Feb 13, 2008, 4:55:00 PM  

Look at the last 3 Stanley Cup Final Matchups.
Ottawa vs. Anaheim
Edmonton vs. Carolina
Calgary vs. Tampa Bay
There is ZERO national interest with matchups like this.
I'm a Leafs fan in Toronto who wishes the NHL could return to being the "4th major sport" in the US, but sadly that likely isn't happening.
Wayne Gretzky isn't getting traded to LA. The Rangers aren't going on a miracle cup run.
This is a reginonal sport in the US which is fantastic to watch live.

Anonymous said...
Feb 13, 2008, 5:38:00 PM  

id rather hockey not be popular than the rangers be good
the penguins will make hockey more popular than its been since the mid nineties without a doubt though

Mike Georger said...
Feb 13, 2008, 5:46:00 PM  

Good input everyone and since I'm not the World's biggest's certainly needed. It's a tough spot to be in for Hockey, but anything is better than the strike at this point.

I'm of the thinking that ESPN would certainly devote more time on average to the Sport and you'd certainly get better ratings then the .2/.3 it's getting on Versus.

Someone emailed me the revenues of the major Sports and Hockey is still doing okay. It just needs relevance again.

Feb 13, 2008, 6:57:00 PM

just for a point of reference on the regional broadcasts, thats the most recent thing ive seen on fsn pittsburghs hockey ratings

Mike Georger said...
Feb 13, 2008, 7:01:00 PM  

One could be cynical about how ESPN would cover hockey, and most of it would be fair, but since it would be on their own network, at least they'd have an interest in promoting it. Think of what they did with Arena Football last year, you actually saw commercials for games, and they'd get mentioned on SportsCenter. At the risk of losing a bit of quality with it being on the WWL, at least they'd have more exposure, which would remind people hockey still exists. I mean, one of the games of the STANLEY CUP FINALS last year, actually had a lower rating than the lowest rated XFL game. I'm not making that up. You don't get much lower than that.

Oh, and fire Bettman.

Michael said...
Feb 13, 2008, 8:41:00 PM  

At the end when the NHL was on the WWL, it was obvious they didnt care. They went away from the end of playoff games as soon as possible to show Baseball Tonight, you would see other sports promoted during NHL games but the same thing didnt happen for upcoming NHL broadcasts. Their choice of games was strange to me, an end of season game with a last place Rangers team in a half empty MSG, or a game from LA starting at 10:30 so most people on the east coast coulnt see it. The actual presentation of the games I didnt have a problem with, it was what was before, during and after that got to me.

NBC's decision on what games to show are puzzling on a recent Saturday they had Rangers-Bruins when Detroit and Colorado played the night before, arguably the best NHL rivalry of the last 15 yrs. I understand from a TV market perspective Rangers-Bruins, but at best you're probably getting a third to half of NYC area hockey fans, and some are probably watching just to see Rangers lose. This past Sunday, the Anaheim / Detroit game was on against the highest rated Pro Bowl in years. And that game had the defending champion vs best record (Think Colts-Pats regular season game this year for those who dont follow hockey). And this week's game is on opposite Daytona 500.

I think one way to improve the presentation of games on TV would be to have CBC or TSN ( Canadian ESPN) produce games for ones shown in US. I can get the NHL network on my cable package and the arenas look brighter, its easier to see puck, the camera work is good, it is almost like watching an NFL

On a lighter note, has anyone else seen the commercial where the two goalies trade your mama insults ?
I think it's pretty funny.

jg said...
Feb 13, 2008, 10:10:00 PM  

Hey FOX. Step up to the plate. I need more robots. I gotta have more robots.

Michael said...
Feb 14, 2008, 8:14:00 AM  

What is this "NHL" you are talking about?

Anonymous said...
Feb 14, 2008, 8:17:00 AM  

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