Scheduling Yourself into Irrelevance

Posted by Drew Mindell in Cold Hard Rants on April 22, 2009 — 15 Comments

There is a sort of un-written rule that when it comes to the amalgam between professional sports and television, television wags the dog of the sport. Think about the big five professional sports, the NFL, MLB, NBA, NCAA and NASCAR. Each of those five organisations have television contracts that provide income of an outrageously substantial level, so much so that in the case of the NFL each team is profitable before selling a single ticket. (For space sake, I will ignore that the NCAA is the most profitable of the professional sports because, you know, they don’t pay their “student athletes”. The canard that any NCAA Division I athlete in basketball or football is also a student is so laughable it hurts.) The “big five” realize that television is their biggest meal ticket, and do everything in their power to accommodate their sport for television, ensuring large audiences, games played in prime time, and an overall buzz related to their product. Fortunately (for me as a columnist), rather than emulating the successful sporting organisations, the NHL has decided to take an approach of thumbing their nose at television, and instead march to the beat of their own drummer when it comes to television broadcasting. Take yesterday for example.

Last night, for some reason that presumably only the tall foreheads at NHL headquarters in Toronto/New York understood, the NHL scheduled five playoff games. Of those five games, four were played at exactly the same time. If you wanted to watch Vancouver versus St. Louis, and Pittsburgh versus Philadelphia, both being broadcast on CBC, sorry hockey fans, you were s**t out of luck. I think this deserves repeating; if you wanted to watch Sidney Crosby, the marquee poster boy for the NHL, play in the third period of a playoff game versus their hated in-state rivals from Philadelphia the only way you could do it was by watching it on the internet, or on some random station from Peterborough, Ontario that oddly enough was broadcasting that game. Over on TSN, a similar problem existed, as they had the contractual rights to two games occurring at the same time (New Jersey-Carolina, Columbus-Detroit), and one of the two was on a network (TSN2) not presently available in the Province of Ontario, only the most populace of all the Canadian provinces. It boggles the mind.

Contrast these nonsensical broadcasting decisions with those of a well-run sporting organisation, the NBA. The NBA is the best comparison to the NHL, as both leagues offer a first round of 16 playoff teams. The broadcasting difference between the two is that the NBA does not run games simultaneous to one another, or if they are forced to do so, they make them available on different networks. Rarely will the NBA have two games starting at 7 PM, but if they do, one game is available on TNT, and another is available on ESPN, making sure that a basketball fan can be guaranteed that they can see their favourite player/team. Seems pretty logical right? Can you imagine if Lebron James was not available to the entire country, instead only viewable by a small market in the greater Cleveland area? Fans would riot, and the television networks would scream bloody murder. They know where their bread is buttered, and it’s buttered with the superstars that make viewers tune the dial to that game.

I know the NHL will tell you that part of the charm of their playoffs is the warrior mentality, no room for the weak, constant flow to the playoff games, with no more than one day off between games. Fine, I appreciate that, and understand that. However, if you are so worried about maintaining this “warrior” dynamic that you feel entices people to their televisions, what good does it do if the game isn’t available on your TV?

In this day and age of hundreds and hundreds of television networks, all of whom are desperate for programming, and a viewer having at their easy disposal the same hundreds and hundreds of viewing options, it is beyond belief that the NHL hasn’t recognized that each and every one of their playoff games must be available to be watched, and few if any of those games should overlap with one another. For Canadians to not have been able to watch all of Pittsburgh-Philadelphia, and Americans not able to watch St. Louis-Vancouver (at least in Michigan, as Illegal Curve Detroit correspondent David Minuk was lamenting to me last night), is evidence of the shameful job done by the NHL in ensuring that their best product, playoff hockey, is available to as wide an audience as possible. I would say I am surprised, but as this column has outlined ad nauseum, the NHL is best at being as incompetent as possible.

For Illegal Curve, I am Drew Mindell.

Please join the discussion below. Your comments are always welcome.

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  • Bob Roberts

    I watched the Pens game on RDSHD.

    No one ever seems to mention RDSHD, why is that? Isn’t it available in Ontario?

    TSN2 isn’t available in Ontario on cable because of Rogers, is that right? But it is available in Ontario on Bell ExpressVu?

    I don’t understand why Versus is so hard to get in the US — isn’t the US market supposed to be wide open, with no CRTC to dictate which provider can offer which programming?

    Interesting that David and his friends in Detroit could just go across the bridge to Windsor and get a Bell dish and watch whatever they want. Quite the change from when we had to get a Direct dish from the US and set up a US address to get ESPN and watch hockey. Is that irony or what?

    As for Bettman & Co. — never have so few received so much money for so long a period and done so much to sabotage the league they ostensibly run while professing with such fervor the opposite.

    Red Deer Ron aside, no one ever seems to call him/them on it, either.

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com Drew

    Bob,

    I can’t speak for the entire country, but those of us in Manitoba who have Shaw (the biggest cable provider), don’t get RSNHD. Hell, we don’t even get The Score in HD. (We do get the Big10 network in HD for some bizarre reason.)

    Ultimately, my point is that to make a hockey fan search high and low to watch your product during its heyday (the playoffs) is beyond ridiculous. A casual fan is not going to spend the time and effort to do so.

    And what do you mean no one besides Red Deer Ron calls them on it? What has been my entire rep been based on?? :)

  • Bob Roberts

    Get a dish, Drew — SHAW is garbage: always has been. Only got NHLCI in 2006 for crying out loud. Still, I should thank them for getting me to ExpressVu for that reason alone — never go back to Shaw.

    As for Bettman, I meant to his face. I’d love to see you interview him. You and Al Strachan. Set that up would you? (Bell has Score HD, by the way.)

    By the way: 1) does your computer alert you when a comment is made at IC? 2) where are my picks on your chart? 3) the games are on…

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com Drew

    Bob,

    I would get a dish if I could, but being condo-bound, it adds a level of difficulty. As one of the original purveyors of the grey-market DirecTV dishes, I am fully versed in their benefits.

    I would be thrilled to interview Bettman. Let’s hope someone reading this at NHL HQ reads this and makes the arrangements.

    Yes, I get an email whenever someone comments on one of my articles.

    And, please re-send me your first round selections and I will add them to the chart.

    Enjoy the games, while listening to the radio show in the background–we are still awaiting your maiden phone call.

  • Bob Roberts

    I’m listening now, but you don’t need my call to make your show better. It’s great as it is. My selections were in the comments section and not via email, and I do it round by round — still want?

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com david

    For the record I’m in Lasning, MI not Detroit. So I would have to go over to Port Huron instead of Windsor.

    Courtesy of one of the guys from the Chicago Blackhawks blog on SBN (Second City Hockey) they sent me a link so I was able to watch the CBC feed online.

    Versus only showed the Pits/Phil game and then the Ana/SJ (at least in Michigan) as I was hoping they would pop over and give us a bit of the Van/St.L OT.

    As I indicated in my own column (re: NHL on ESPN) the NHL needs to get a clue on how to properly market the game. And that doesn’t included have 4 7pm start’s.

    One thing that they’ve done that I like though are the new commercial with the clock counting down.

  • Bob Roberts

    David — I hope the economy in Lansing isn’t killing you as it seems to be so many others. That “this is not Lansing…” thing out of Ottawa is embarassing, but it did lead to me hearing a story on good old CBC which included an interview with the president of the Lansing Tourist and Convention Bureau in which he said the population has dropped from around 340,000 to 140.000. Did I hear that correctly?

    When I said you could go get a dish from Canada to watch hockey I was talking irony, not economy. Still, condo/apartment issues aside, the cost of a Bell HD PVR dish and NHLCI for the first season would be about $1.58/day CDN (or the price of an extra large Tim Horton’s coffee) and $.50/day the next season (NHLCI only). And I don’t know anyone who drinks too much coffee or any hockey fans who wouldn’t give up one cup/day for NHLCI.

    Now, I’m not a beerdrinker, but for those who are it would be about a 2 or 3 beer sacrifice per week wouldn’t it?

    As for Versus — don’t get me started on play-by-play guys who say, “That wash out signal by the referee was to say, ‘No, that wasn’t a penalty…’.

    Oops, sorry, that’s a HD Corner comment — don’t tell Drew.

    Thanks for the scoreboards — especially like your comments.

    I think we can accept the 13 hour drive as a valid reason to miss any number of things. Maybe not anniversaries or dinner at the in-laws…OK for dinner at the in-laws…

  • pattywins

    Why are you surprised?

    Remember when the made a big deal about having all the teams play on one Saturday? You think they would have staggered them, but almost all started at 7. Its like that they can imagine that a fan would want to watch more than one team.

    The illegal dish network usually has all the games. I am in Taiwan, so I live off the internet. I could but the online center ice pakage, but they cannot even show highlights properly on nhl.com, so why would I pay for something that does not work.

    If it were not for hockey pools, I would have given up on this sport a long time ago.

  • Bob Roberts

    NHLCI works great on TV in Canada, PW. Sorry to hear you can’t get it on TV in Taiwan and have to rely on the internet. That nhl.com site is just garbage, isn’t it? Looks like an old Dungeons & Dragons set it’s so dark/black. How are you doing in the pools? Despite my comments on Krejci looking tired I took him in every pool I could (Ryder too) and I’m glad I did. What time (and day) was it when you posted your comment?

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com david

    Luckily I’m in school (first time I’ve ever felt “lucky” about being in school) so the poor Michigan economy isn’t killing me. I’m not familiar with that commercial but I’m not surprised by it. I’ve never been a big fan when people promote their city at the expense of another. I hadn’t realized that the city has fallen in population. Where did they all go? Ottawa perhaps.

    No problem (re;scoreboards). I’m glad to know that you are enjoying them.

  • chileiceman

    TSN2 IS available in Ontario. I have it on Bell TV. It is only those that have Rogers (which apply to more provinces than just Ontario) that are shit out of luck. And I was able to whatch the game on CHEX living a long ways from Peterborough, they have it on Bell.

    They can’t schedule games for the daytime on a weekday. I’m sure the reason they had 5 game son the same day was arena logistics or something like that. Either way they would have had 4.

    I actually don’t mind having a few games going on at once. I flip back and forth and don’t have to bother with ads or intermissions.

  • Bob Roberts

    The CHEX feed was in SD, though, whereas RDSHD was in, well, HD. And their feed has had the better HD signal all season in my opinion. The only better picture I’ve seen on ocassion has been the MSGHD one on NHLCI.

    I love flipping back and forth too. On Wednesdays I flip with the sound off while listening to the IC Radio Show on the net. I should write a book: “Multitasking For Old Farts”. (OOPS — LANGUAGE!!! — “multitasking” is probably out now.)

  • pattywins

    The internet is okay …. ustream is great but then it kicks out, and it just lags. Its really frustrating sometimes. But I am used to it I lived in Mexico from August to March, so I have watched illegally online all year. Last year I had the whole sports package with rogers so I got to watch all the games, I could not imagine paying for it and having to miss games because of the tsn2 feud. I used to call and complain when they did not fla or tb games. My biggest problem with NHLCI online is that I am afraid it will not work, based on the fact the highlights never do. Also, if you order from outside north america, they will not tell you the price until you pay for it.

    I am okay in the pools, I went Pittsburgh Vancouver hard, so we will see how that works. Do not like your Boston, I think they have already played their best hockey this year. Kreji will die eventually just Malkin did last year.

    I am 12 hours into the future, I am lucky I work 2 to 9 so I get to watch the games before I get to work. I wrote at 1030 am on the 24th or 1030 pm on the 23rd

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com Drew

    I can’t wait for the NHL to soon announce that viewership is up in Taiwan by one million percent, all thanks to pattywins tuning in on the internet.

  • Bob Roberts

    I don’t know about Krejci — I thought he was tired or hurt too — but he sure didn’t look it vs Montreal. I’ve got pretty even Pitt and Vcr, but went hard on Ducks which looks good so far. Picked up Pronger, Ryan and Getzlaf in the late rounds if you can believe it. Everyone said I wasted my picks. I’m smiling now, though. Look out for Boston. Keep your stick on the ice.