Monday, July 11, 2011

82 Games. In High Definition. This Season. Why not?

During the last offseason, I spent some time looking into the world of television broadcasting for the Columbus Blue Jackets.  ("82 in 10": Part 1, Part 2)  It wasn't the most productive exercise, seeing as neither the Blue Jackets nor Fox Sports Ohio wanted to share any meaningful information about their contract to broadcast CBJ games in the "regional" market (in this case, the market served by Fox Sports Ohio).  In case you didn't know, that market includes Ohio and parts of Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York:

Coverage maps are interesting (and the fact that SportsTime Ohio only is carried in Ohio - and not all of Ohio, I gather - and Western Pennsylvania probably explains why STO hasn't been able to get into the CBJ broadcast game), but I'll suggest that most diehard Blue Jackets fans largely want three things out of their television coverage, regardless of who carries the games: 

1) Competent on-air broadcasters

SB Nation's Derek Zona - an apparent hockey-watching masochist - watched samples of every regional broadcast team and ranked them for our reading pleasure.  I largely agree with his four-star assessment of Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge.  While they are not my favorite broadcasters on the face of the earth (Give me Daryl Reaugh or Darren Pang, thank you!), I find them better than the majority of the broadcast teams out there.  They offer a professional, if not slightly starch-collared, approach to presenting hockey.  I'd like a little looser presentation, perhaps a tad more "fun" for the local fans, but that's a personal opinion.  Overall, it's hard to complain about those two guys.  Especially when you've had to sit through what other teams' fans are forced to endure.

2) Every game broadcast on television

We're not all fortunate enough to have season tickets, perhaps due to geographic distances, economic circumstances or family encumbrances.  But 91 percent of Americans paid for a television subscription of some sort in the first quarter of 2011.  Beyond that, 65 percent of Ohio's households have cable (and that doesn't include satellite TV), which means that they're likely receiving Fox Sports Ohio or SportsTime Ohio on their televisions.  Who knows, they might even also be getting Versus!

As I've noted, Fox Sports Ohio has broadcast 75 CBJ games per season since 2003-04 (and last season also featured another 3 on Versus, getting local CBJ broadcasts in 2010-11 up to 78 games).  Keeping in mind that our friends in Nashville only received 60 games from Fox Sports last season and won't hit 70 games until 2013-14, I won't say that the Columbus fans are spoiled, but we surely are more fortunate than our footwear-challenged rivals.  

Still, 78 games meant that 4 games didn't get aired locally.  Two didn't get aired at all, and two had to get picked up via (cough!) alternate means if you really wanted to watch.  I have a very hard time understanding why Fox Sports didn't broadcast any games outside of those that were played in Sweden last season or carried on Versus.  I'll maintain that stance.  If the Columbus Blue Jackets play a game in North America in a game not carried by Versus or NBC, it should be on Fox Sports Ohio in 2011-2012.  Period.  End of story.  No excuses.  Just do it.  

3) Every game broadcast in high definition

Nielsen Research suggests that the majority of households in America now have High Definition TV sets in their homes.  Fox Sports Ohio seems to get that fact, having boosted their games broadcast in high-definition from 20 in 2006-07 to 67 in 2010-11 - or 89 percent of their CBJ games.  Remember, High-def television is made for hockey, and more and more Americans are getting into the game as a result of the improved clarity helping them keep up with the speed of this incredible game that we love.

If you follow the trend and keep in mind that FSO has a reasonable expectation to broadcast 75-80 games per season, it is not out of the question to think that they are on a trajectory to broadcast every Columbus Blue Jackets game in high definition in the 2011-12 season.  

That's a very, very good thing and - considering their improved performance in high-def broadcasting over the years - anything less than every single game in HD would be both a shock and a disappointment to the Columbus Blue Jackets fan base.  

There are also two extra circumstances to consider that bolster my rather brash expectation:

A) The NBA lockout

With all due respect to the Cavs, their fans and basketball fans in general, this is a great opportunity.  FSO can expand their somewhat anemic 2010-11 average CBJ viewership of 10,000 households and maybe produce some ratings that will grab better advertising dollars.  It's also a terrific opportunity for the Blue Jackets to grow their fanbase, ticket buying base, merchandise purchasing base, etc.  If both sides don't capitalize on it, they're crazy.  There's nothing but upside in growing this small pie out to something more meaningful.  

B) The "Contract Year"

I was mistaken in thinking that the 2010-11 season was the last season on the current television rights contract between the CBJ and FSO.  Because of the lockout, that got bumped back a season.  So this is the year that the Blue Jackets can take the television rights out to market.  

Fox Sports Ohio has the opportunity to "WOW" the Blue Jackets with their coverage (including more games in HD and an improved weekly "Slap Shots" show, which is begging for more new, and more interesting, content).  On their side, the Blue Jackets can upgrade their roster, win a few more games and prove themselves as a playoff-worthy franchise that deserves a big contract payday (and here we thought it was all about celebrating Rick Nash's 27th birthday - how could we have been so naive?).

The Big Finish

In the end, it's pretty simple.  The stars are aligned to bring more Columbus Blue Jackets games - and of higher broadcast quality - to the fans via television this season.  We've got the announcers, now let's get 'em on the air as much as humanly possible!


  1. Question, who else would show CBJ games? Could STO do it? Or ONN (is that even still around?)

  2. TheClevelandHockeyJuly 11, 2011 at 7:44 PM

    I hadn't thought of the NBA lockout directly impacting how many CBJ games would be shown. Knowing what I've seen though, FSO will most likely just broadcast poker or table tennis in the Cleveland market.

    Very good read, DBJ. Didn't know about the contract terms; wonder where else the CBJ would go if not back to FSO? If they had their own channel, I'd never be able to watch a CBJ game again.

  3. What I like is that in a year where the "big" pro sports may be taking an off year we're putting a much improved product out on the ice. Granted, my predictions have been over-optimistic in years past but if we put out entertaining games we should pick up lasting market share.

  4. Ryan - I posted on the topic of alternate broadcast possibilities here.

    And thanks, everyone, for the feedback!

  5. I would gladly take 3 hours of garlicky tuna melts and prideful credit cards riding turtles if that's what it takes to get 82 HD CBJ games.


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