Thursday, August 5, 2010

A modest proposal: 82 in 10


About a month ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets' budget-team rival in the NHL's Central Division, the Nashville Predators, issued a press release trumpeting its new television deal with Fox Sports Tennessee.  In the release, the Preds said,
The National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators, the team’s television broadcast partner FOX Sports Tennessee and its sister station SportSouth announced today a new four-year broadcast deal that will see the networks televise 60 Nashville Predators regular-season games this season (2010-11), 65 regular-season games during years two (2011-12) and three (2012-13) and 70 games in the fourth year (2013-14) of the deal. The goal in year one of the agreement is to broadcast a minimum of 45 games in high definition, with increases each year thereafter.
Interesting. Only 60 games in a season? Only 45 in high-definition? In an 82-game season?  Is Bill Wirtz back from The Great Beyond and running the Preds?

But this isn't a Nashville Predators sympathy blog.  Far from it.  It's a Columbus Blue Jackets blog, and the real value of the Preds announcement to yours truly was that it prompted me to take a look-see at the television situation with the Blue Jackets and their television broadcast partner, Fox Sports Ohio (FSO).  With the help of FSO's communications manager, Kate Buddinhagen and CBJ fan stats guru En4cer45, I went about trying to construct a picture of the Blue Jackets' history on TV, the issues involved in broadcasting them and the prospects going forward.


First, the very good news: The Blue Jackets are on TV a lot more than the Preds.  Since 2003-2004, FSO has broadcast 75 CBJ games a season.  That means that FSO has missed only seven games a season since the lockout...not too shabby.

In addition, the high-definition coverage has picked up over the years.  It's fair to say that HD wasn't a top priority in television prior to the FCC high-definition cutover, but now enough people have HD sets that it has made more and more sense to focus on getting more games in HD.  Beyond that, HD may be the NHL's killer app - no sport's presentation improves as much as hockey's in making the jump from standard definition to high-def.  And better presentation of the game most likely means more fans, better ratings and eventually more ticket sales.

As for FSO and the Blue Jackets, we've seen the following numbers of games broadcast in hi-def as follows:
  • 2006-2007: 20 games
  • 2007-2008: 25 games
  • 2008-2009: 40 games
  • 2009-2010: 50 games
Compare that to the Preds' TV package, and Jackets fans really get a pretty good deal - a deal that could get even better.  Buddinhagen offered this comment in response to a question I posed - a response that should excite Blue Jackets fans everywhere:
Our commitment to the Columbus Blue Jackets and our viewers is very strong. We continue to work to reach our goal of providing all of our Blue Jackets games in HD.
Oh my.  All of the FSO games in HD?  Looking at their trajectory in adding HD games over the years, that's not entirely surprising...nor is it an insurmountable goal.  (It probably got easier now that a certain someone from the Cleveland Cavaliers - another FSO broadcast partner - took his talents to South Beach...)  But it is darned exciting to yours truly.  I'll admit it, I've been spoiled by HD.  It's crisp.  It's clear.  The game is so much more "alive" to the viewer.  In contrast, a standard definition game after watching HD seems more like watching through one of those not-quite-clear shower curtains.  I'll take high-def any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.

There surely is a lot to consider with the Blue Jackets' contract with Fox Sports Ohio.  At the same time, mere mortals like myself were not meant to understand that contract.  For example, FSO won't comment on their contract with the CBJ, the issues involved in broadcasting in HD nor their CBJ-specific advertisers.  But if the intent to broadcast every FSO game is as clear as Buddinhagen states, let's step back for a minute from the minutiae and seriously consider this idea:

A MODEST PROPOSAL IN THE COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS' 10th ANNIVERSARY SEASON

We're entering the 10th Anniversary Season for the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Fox Sports Ohio has not yet released their broadcast schedule for the 2010-2011 season.  FSO apparently wants to broadcast all of their CBJ games in high-def.  The fans who can't attend the games in person (and I am in no way suggesting that people watch games on TV as opposed to the great experience of a live game) want to see every game - and in high-def.

So why not offer this 10th anniversary gift to the fans: A joint commitment from the Columbus Blue Jackets and Fox Sports Ohio to broadcast ALL 82 GAMES in HD.  They're already at 75 games...what's seven more?  And if they can't do it this year, a public commitment from both partners to reach that target in the immediate future would be nearly as satisfying for fans that are used to waiting...and waiting...and waiting.  It would mean so much to those of us who would love to have and use season tickets but - for a host of reasons - can't do so.  Never mind the diehards who want to stay up till all hours to catch the late-night away games on those hellacious West Coast road trips!

82 in 10.  Not necessarily the easiest task to accomplish, but certainly not the hardest.  Might even be easier than resolving the arena issues...


9 comments:

  1. I'm all for it (if we can get some of those games on in Toledo too! We're not all Wings fans, damnit!)

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  2. My prediction... 75 in 10 all in HD.

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  3. Good point, MrC. Expanding the CBJ footprint (around all of Ohio at minimum) is vital to the team's continued success.

    And yeah, Chuck, I think I agree with you and expect virtually all of the games that FSO broadcasts to be in HD. But that brings up my second point, which is to announce a commitment to all 82 games, on tv, in HD even if they can't deliver this season. It's almost as good as the real thing!

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  4. great regular season coverage, it's not like FSO has to worry about playoff games.

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  5. From Kate Buddinhagen @ FSO:

    "CBJ coverage areas are determined by the NHL. There are places in our footprint where we are not allowed to distribute the CBJ b/c of NHL restriction. I’m sure you know that, but just wanted to clarify! Thanks!"

    ...which gives MrC and folks in his shoes another worthwhile reason to hate Gary Bettman...

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  6. Go Blue Jackets!Win the Stanley Cup!

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  7. 82 may be unrealistic considering how unlikely it is that a game will be simulcast on FSO and Versus.

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  8. I'm confused at a couple points and have a couple thoughts, as well.

    The FCC didn't have an HD cut-over, but a digital cut-over. The FCC isn't forcing anyone to HD anytime soon.

    The move to digital has actually opened up some room for FSO to potentially broadcast more games (still excluding games blacked out due to the Versus exclusivity agreement). Analog broadcasting takes up a significant amount of 'bandwidth', so much that a broadcaster could broadcast two digital broadcasts for every one analog broadcast. One HD broadcast, more or less, fits into the same 'bandwidth' as an analog broadcast while still providing much, much greater picture and audio quality. (see http://www.dtv.gov/whatisdtv.html for more information)

    With that being the case, FSO could potentially broadcast a Cavs game and CBJ game at the same time, but on different channels (7-1, 7-2) and in standard definition.

    That only takes into account over-the-air broadcasts. For digital (cable, satellite) broadcasts, each provider (Time Warner, DirecTV, etc.) would need to have a separate channel dedicated to each. DirecTV, for example, offers 660, 660-1 (HD), 661, and 661-1 (HD).

    I don't at all know what happens to the broadcast cameras in Nationwide Arena, but I would guess that they don't have to have them back to Larry's Camera Rental by midnight or else they turn into Polaroids. I also can't imagine that they use SD cameras for the SD games and HD cameras for the HD games. That would likely require completely different broadcast equipment in the trailer that Jim Day and John Michael show off during the All Access nights. It is much easier to just use HD cameras all the time and have the production equipment convert it to SD on the fly.

    My parents live in a Northwest Ohio city that is equidistant from Detroit and Columbus. For the longest time, their local cable company only had FS Detroit. I was miraculously able to get a CBJ game on the FS channel, but I noticed that they were getting FSO instead of FSD. I don't know if that is a full-time thing or not. Perhaps they were showing FSO because there wasn't a Wings game that night. It's been too long ago to remember.

    The per-year stats listed in the post... are those stats HD games or SD?

    For the 2009-2010 season, all Cavs games that FSO broadcast were in HD. Granted, they only aired 70 of the 82 games, but all 70 were in HD. (see http://www.foxsportsohio.com/09/24/09/FOX-SPORTS-OHIO-ANNOUNCES-THE--2009-10-C/landing.html?blockID=92960&feedID=4181) They mention that they are very proud to have so many games in HD, etc. for the Cavs' 40th season.

    All this being said, while I wish that all 82 CBJ games would be in HD, I don't think it will ever happen until the Versus agreement is gone/modified or until the schedule is organized in a way that no other games are on during one of the Versus-exclusive nights. Perhaps, FSO will find it in their heart to celebrate CBJ's 10th season in a similar manner to the Cavs' 40th. In 2009, FSO announced the CBJ schedule on August 13, so hopefully we will have some very good news shortly.

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  9. soangrydotnet:

    Strong reply, deserving a point-by-point response. (Side note: I love it when a reader really digs into a post and explores the ideas even more deeply than I did. Thanks for making my day!)

    1. "HD cutover" - Apologies, I'm not an expert on the digital TV jargon. And you're correct, it was an over-the-air broadcast issue. At the same time, it focussed consumers on getting HDTVs in their homes. The numbers spiked rather considerably, I believe. (Football season helped, too, if memory serves correct.) Critical mass of HDTV sets means that the broadcasters need to raise their game.

    2. HD cameras: Your thoughts seem sound. I'm not FSO, so I can't speak to them, but it makes sense to me. I would guess that the real issue in getting all games in HD, however, is the away games in arenas that don't have HD cameras yet. (Why do some of the western Canadian teams come to mind from my Center Ice experience last year? Calgary? Edmonton?)

    3. FSO's footprint in Ohio: Don't know, I should ask FSO on that one. Thanks for the heads up.

    4. Per-year stats: Those are games broadcast in HD. My bad, I'll fix as soon as I finish this reply.

    5. Cavs: Don't get me started. Please.

    6. The Versus agreement: Look, I want all 82 CBJ games in HD. Versus, I believe, broadcasts all of their games in HD. To me, a CBJ Versus (HD) game counts toward the 82. I'm not trying to say that FSO should have every game...that's actually something I'd like NOT to happen as that would mean that the CBJ would be getting national exposure on Versus or NBC (presumably because they were good!). Just all 82 games, in HD.

    And the majority still would be on FSO, whom I've really warmed to after seeing other coverage on Center Ice. The grass isn't always greener, folks. We've got it pretty good.

    7. "Perhaps, FSO will find it in their heart to celebrate CBJ's 10th season in a similar manner to the Cavs' 40th.": Oh, wouldn't that be great! I know that Kate Buddinhagen read the post as she responded to it, so let's hope that the rest of the powers that be at the CBJ and FSO have read it as well. Cross your fingers!

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