Last night I had was able to watch, live, the final minutes of the Carolina-New Jersey game via Center Ice through DirecTV. It was one of the best hockey games I have seen in a long time, with Carolina coming from behind to score two goals in the final 1:20 to win and eliminate the Devils. But I found out this morning that most of the United States was NOT able to see this thrilling game. This game was a great example of the NHL playoffs, but as per the “contractual obligations” of Versus, was not available.
Add this to the list of the many complaints about the lack of playoff games on TV. From the many parts of Ohio that were not able to watch the Blue Jackets (or at least locate them on television) to the other complaints like Time Warner not showing the games in HD to the Columbus area. And I can’t even begin to list here what I have heard although not confirmed in other parts of the country. Personally, I tuned into Comcast Chicago on Monday night to watch the Flames-Blackhawk game in HD, but after a few minutes, my screen went dark and I learned that it was blacked out in my area. DirecTV did not have the game listed on VersusHD, but after a few minutes of fumbling around, it really was there all along. But it was not a Versus game, merely a re-transmission of the TSN broadcast, which is normally a good thing, except for putting up with that tool Pierre McGuire whining about the Hawks being mean to Jerome Iginla.
What I’m getting around to saying is that your games are NOT being shown to hockey fans all over the U.S. and when it is shown, it is not a high-quality package. Your studio analysts, Keith Jones and Brian Engblom, have become dull and uninteresting. Your on-ice productions are done with a minimal number of cameras. And lets not get into who you choose to do the play-by-play.
Now I’m not shouting out here in favor of a return to ESPN, but at least with them we knew that they would show everything, no matter what. For ESPN, hockey was the subject of their product. With Versus, hockey is the thing that fills open time slots between rodeo and some kind of fighting show. And it looks like the same crews also produce the hockey telecasts.
Mr. Bettman, you have to do something. Television is what sells the game, it’s what gets people into the arenas, it attracts the numbers that advertisers will pay big bucks to reach. I can’t believe that you are accomplishing any of this with the current TV contract that you have. Sure, your ratings might be up, but you have teams from several very large markets playing in the first round. Now that you don’t have a team from New York or the Bay Area playing, come back next week with your numbers.
Put this in your bucket of things that you and your Governors won’t fix. Hits to the head, the War Room, the development of quality officials, Sean Avery, Phoenix, etc. The bucket is overflowing. But TV is how you grow your game.