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Cold Hard Rants

Scheduling Yourself into Irrelevance

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.

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