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.
(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.
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.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.