Friday, February 19, 2010

What's in it for me?

That's the question that National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman has to be asking after looking at what NBC has done to men's ice hockey exposure in the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

If there's been a way for NBC to dump on hockey, it has.  We've seen hockey - ALL hockey, men's and women's - get relegated to the curling ghettos of CNBC and MSNBC.  We've seen starts of games get preempted.  We've seen commercials when goals were scored.  We've seen games shifted between channels in the middle of games.  Puck Daddy and Puck the Media pretty much tally up the damage.

To the best of my knowledge, since the opening ceremonies when Bob Costas and Matt Lauer talked about a couple of the non-NHL hockey flag bearers and how the hockey gold is pretty much the only thing that the Canadian people care about, we have had a whopping ONE mention of men's hockey on the NBC "mother ship" network in primetime.  Costas fumbled through some highlights of the Canada-Switzerland shootout thriller.

(The incredible irony of all this is that the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" - a men's Olympic hockey tournament - was considered the greatest sports moment of the 20th Century.  Today, a potential "Miracle" wouldn't even make it to broadcast television.)

Now, the USA-Canada game on Saturday - a legitimate big game, seeing as the Americans are improbably  ranked higher than the Canadians right now in the standings - is on MSNBC.  As longtime hockey writer William Houston explains in trying to unravel the strange TV arrangement between NBC and the NHL:
NHL irked over NBC Olympic scheduling 
Insiders say the National Hockey League was furious when it learned NBC relegated the Canada-United States Olympic hockey game, in prime time Sunday, to its cable channel MSNBC.
And why wouldn’t the league be upset? It had obviously hoped the showdown between the two rivals would be aired on NBC’s main network.
The whole idea, or most of it, of the NHL participating in the Winter Games is to inspire interest in hockey in the United States. And that’s accomplished by getting the big games on the U.S. broadcast network, not a cable channel. 
Every year, the league hands over a schedule of NHL games to NBC — free of charge, no rights fee – in a profit sharing scheme. And what does it get in return? The first important men’s hockey game of the Olympics goes to MSNBC.
Is there any wonder that Bettman won't commit to shutting the NHL down again for two weeks in the middle of the season?  With this type of treatment?  When all you want in return is big media exposure and don't even get that for your biggest games?  To his credit, Bettman isn't totally slamming the door on continuing this mess:
"This costs us money, this disrupts our season and we're here (only) because we think it helps our game," the commissioner said Thursday. "That doesn't mean we're not going to and it doesn't mean we are going to go.
"We will have a new [Collective Bargaining Argeement with the NHL Players Association]," Bettman said, "and it will be a subject of discussions."
And the IIHF, seemingly blind to the generosity of the NHL, only wants more, more, more:
"The NHL plays 5,000 games in four years (between Olympics)," said Rene .Fasel, president of the IIHL. "The game we love, to do a little effort to play these games, to shut down - it's worth it. We need you, Gary, 100%."
There is no question that the NHL players have added an incredible spark to the Olympic hockey tournament.  They are playing some fantastic hockey right now.  Problem is, only the diehards are seeing it.  And that doesn't help the NHL grow its hockey audience one iota.

Bettman has every right to ask, "What's in it for me?"  Right now, I don't think that NBC or the IIHF can give a straight answer.


  1. I can see both sides to this.

    First off, being a hockey fan, I get upset when a game is joined in progress due to curling. But then again, the curling fan would be upset if the end of their (is it called a) match was preempted for the start of a hockey game.

    I dont really have a problem with the games so far not being on the mothership station, as what they have been showing, for the most part, are medal rounds of whatever sport they are showing, and these games are preliminary games.

    The game between US and Canada though, does belong on the main stage. NBC already has a NHL Game of the Week, this could just take it's place. Its a natural fit.

    If Bettman is worried about exposure, there are plenty of things he can do, beginning with getting the games off of Versus and the ridiculous contract they have, and back on ESPN where they belong. Just about every cable system in North America has ESPN as part of it's standard package. Just look at how many more people will get to actually see the games that way.

  2. Mark -

    Strong reaction commentary. Permit me to offer my thoughts.

    1. If curling is equated with ice hockey, I think we need to have a very different discussion.

    2. I largely agree with paragraph 2, but I think that "live look-ins" on exciting games isn't too much to ask. And that goes for all sports. Filling primetime with nothing but figure skating may get some ratings, but it's not representative of the Olympics. I also will be very interested to see which hockey games they DO put on the big network.

    3. Excellent point about the Game of the Week. During the Olympics, USA-Canada is the functional equivalent of the NHL All-Star Game in the States. Passing on that game makes no sense to me.

    4. Don't get me started on Versus. I have DirecTV and thus can only watch Versus games on some bizarre Lithuanian/Croatian feed on my laptop.

  3. Your Friendly Pens FanFebruary 19, 2010 at 7:38 PM

    I've said for a long, long time that NBC sucks for hockey coverage. I remember a certain DBJ questioning me about that fact saying "I thought they did a good job." NBC does not care about hockey. NBC is all about money. And they make some really dumb decisions based on money. Just ask Conan...

    All that being said, I am glad they are choosing to put hockey on other channels rather than putting it on NBC's main channel and just giving brief "look-ins." It gives hockey fans the opportunity to watch all the games being played in a day. My only complaint is missing part of a hockey game because I'm forced to watch some non-athlete push a rock on ice. I just hope that this curling priority crap ends once the preliminary hockey rounds are done. Once medal rounds start - hockey should not be interrupted. Not even for one minute. As long as they give hockey priority treatment during the medal rounds, I will be happy.

  4. Touche, Pens Fan.

    On the look-ins, I wasn't meaning to suggest that they replace MSNBC/CNBC. I was hoping that they would use a look-in to say, "Heck of a game on the other network, let's watch for a minute or two."

    But of course, that could result in lower ratings for the big network...and we can't have that. So let's just ignore the games on the other channels, ok?


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